Review by Liam Murphy Munster Express

Since the opening of the Deise Greenway, I have found several locations to visit and revisit, but my preference is for the viaduct stretch at Kilmacthomas and the various walks in and around that beautiful town. I sensed an untold history of the place, those who remembered the railway, the factory, the football pitch, the pubs and the Rainbow Hall of the sixties and later. All those unconnected thoughts came flooding back when I read a new play with music by the prolific Tom O’Brien, who grew up near there and emigrated to England and is now living in Hastings. His plays have been staged and well-received in the Irish community in London, but in recent years only Stagemad Theatre Company have staged any of his work in this area, which is indeed a pity.
This new play with music recreates in a raw, visceral way what it must have been like growing up and knowing you wanted to, and had to emigrate to develop or even survive. The home place can forget you so easily, like, out of sight out of mind. Put Your Sweet Lips… recreates the early beginnings of a group of young men in a small rural town that has a factory processing oats and packing them for distribution. It begins in the nineties, with the Narrator T.C. (Tommy Cassidy) looking back to an emerging and energised summer of 1963, a time of expectation when a group of local youths got together to form a showband – The Young Devils, to get them away from Mill work and packing oatlets. A young English girl, Sandra, comes home to visit relations and she can sing and play an instrument.
Very quickly, she is the trigger for rivalry, dissension, wild dreams, loose talk, crude talk and an aping of rock and roll lifestyles as imagined by this group of eager young hopefuls.
There is, of course, the expected clash with family, confused and angry parents, as well as the priest, the teachers and a local Garda. The first act develops the hopeful side of the dream and only slowly do the cracks appear. However, in the second act events accelerate with some dense plotting. Tom O’Brien writes with nostalgia and perhaps a desire to be better recognised in his home place, but that aspiration perhaps has sailed with him on the emigrant boat. But still, the tug of the heart is there, and the raw immediacy of his language cuts through the sentimental nostalgia with perhaps too many revelations and skeletons in the closet. It might be that such hidden secrets were and are there but in theatrical terms, this would require a cast of about seven musicians in their early twenties, and if they could play the tunes of the era it would be better than using pre-recorded tapes or click tracks.
If there is a flaw in this play it is the emphasis on the ‘madness’ of one character who speaks the ‘truth’, but that could be easily adjusted in performance.

Available to buy on Amazon

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