26-01-2014 12;51;02

Upcoming review:

SHORT STORIES REVIEW The Missing Postman and Other Stories

The Co Waterford-born novelist and playwright, Tom O’Brien is still on a very productive streak, and not only has he had two plays produced in London this year, but he has brought out another novel, a book of three Waterford plays, and now a new book of short stories – The Missing Postman and Other Stories. His output is impressive and the work paints a wonderful picture of an Ireland that is quirky and malevolent, as well as giving a wonderful sense of place and time. I am surprised he is not a tourist attraction, and that no Waterford theatre company has scheduled a production of his. What is it about a prophet and his home place?

These stories read like notes to plays, and some are charged with characters and menace, as in the novella-length, The Missing Postman, that looks at the crazy world of Zeb and Zoe, who come to Ireland (Co Waterford) to avenge, separate, unhappy childhoods, and go on a ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ robbery spree. They hide out in a curious cottage of Martin Og, who has surprises in the house of a high-tech nature.

In a chilling exploration that is full of tension and foreboding, the mysterious disappearance of Martin Og’s brother – The Postman of the title is remembered.

In Johnjo’s Tale, we get the sense of emigration and isolation, laced with the sickly nostalgia, for songs of an era of regret, heartache, and rights to property, keeping emigrants forever looking back to the old homestead. This notion of family possessions is forcefully brought home in a very short -The Dispossessed – where the message is driven home (pardon the pun) – you can never go back. Home is not and perhaps, never was, what you desperately wanted it to be.

The Homecoming, is another pithy story where the landscape of memory and the physical landscape of a Hill was quarried away to create a sense of false prosperity. For those who will come to know (and I sincerely hope so) Tom O’Brien as a fine playwright (which he is), these short stories will be viewed as source material into his themes and motivations. But they read as stories in their own right, full of human and bitter honesty, and full of dramatic tension and excitement.



For more than twenty years
I have emptied pens on virgin pages;
A million words at least
And many more chewed in frustration
Then spat into the dustbin of the ages.
Words are cheap and wordsmiths cheaper still
But we like our efforts to be appreciated
And performed ( better still)
Yet to Irish Theatres great and small,
I do not write plays at all;
You have ignored my work
Yet the English do not shirk
To place my plays centre-stage
And Americans too have premiered a few
Which makes me ask you nicely
Irish Theatres, what the FUCK
Is the matter with you?


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The Co Waterford-born playwright and novelist, Tom O’Brien has just had another successful three week run with another new play, No Blacks, No Dogs, No Poles, in London’s Pentameters Theatre. The play despite its provocative title with echoes of a time when ‘No Irish’ might have given it a London context, but this play is set in an Irish town. I was not able to attend its premiere, but Alan Cliff the (up to last year) Waterford-based playwright went along and gave me his considered opinion. Alan is studying theatre in Manchester.

He described the play as complex in structure with at least four aspects overlapping; the return of a son-in-law, who has married an Aboriginal Australian and this brings out themes of racism and bigotry; a revelation of another characters bi-sexuality; the introduction of drugs into the family via a hostage situation; the revelation of an illicit family member’s affair. The London reviews suggested some confusion with themes of racism, immigration, identity and a longing for the past, spiced with sexual repression.

To coincide with this production O’Brien has brought out a collection of three plays, all with Waterford connections, with the title, The Waterford Collection, and its three plays show the detail and proven ability of the author to forge a career for himself. I still find it hard to understand why no Irish or indeed no Waterford theatre group have as yet staged one of his plays. Stagemad Theatre Company were to do so, but it never came to rehearsal stage.

The cover is impressive with three pictures of the new bridge. The first play Queenie is a 5-hander and tells a poignant story of Victoria Dwan who has been institutionalised, and is now being ‘released’ back into the community. This features open-air stage dancing at Granagh Cross, as she wheels around an indigent accordion player in a pram. This seems so surreal and Beckettian, with a wild theatricality. Queenie is a troubled soul who has second-sight. The play is beautifully ‘threaded’ with music and songs.

The second play, Money From America, is a much darker play about two brothers and a farm. Lardy has spent a lifetime toiling on the Co Waterford farm for little reward, and his older brother Jack returns from America and sees the farm as his rightful inheritance. This conflict involves two female partners, who would not be out of place in a McDonagh play, and it has a dark and dangerous resolution.

The third play, Johnjo, is a one-hander, a monologue set in the late seventies, and is a study of Johnjo McGrath from cradle to grave, from the Comeragh’s to wartime England and the dark underbelly of the construction industry. This is a harsh unrelenting play, but it held my attention all the way, and it is filled with songs and music that is as nostalgic as it is ironic.

Such was the success of the recent Pentameters production that they will present another Tom O’Brien play in London in July, about the women in Brendan Behan’s life, and still no Waterford production.    Liam Murphy

available @






NO BLACKS, NO DOGS, NO POLES – Pentameters Theatre, London.

The quaint Pentameters Theatre of Hampstead is an ideal setting for director Jesse Cooper’s charming and intimate production of Tom O Brien’s No Blacks, No Dogs, No Poles. The play weaves a rich tapestry of cultural perspectives on the Irish diaspora, racism and immigration using the central storyline of the Kennedy family and their social dilemmas as a conduit. The use of space vividly reflects the claustrophobia of both the small minded views frequently depicted within the play as well as the closeness of the complicated relationships which play out on stage.

Having said this, despite the underlying tensions seen both in the tense relationships and strong socio-political opinions; there is great warmth in all of the actor’s performances. The combination of a very funny script and some larger than life performances allow the audience to feel like we have been invited into this Irish household free of airs and graces. The result is a lively and homely political dialogue full of both cliche and insight depending on which character is speaking. A script laden with Irish in jokes, music and family banter is thoroughly entertaining. Meanwhile, clever direction allows the audience to see through the comedic defence mechanisms key characters husband and wife Con and Marion Kennedy employ throughout to disguise their true feelings of despondency in an unhappy marriage.

The theme of home is juxtaposed throughout the plot as despite the deep rooted hatred Con (played by Matthew Ward) expresses about the English oppression of the Irish, his wife Marion ultimately feels that England is her true home. Similarly, the return of son Michael to this household where he no longer feels at home having lived abroad reveals the small minded opinions of his father. As Con shows prejudice towards Michael’s Australian black wife (beautifully played by Rachel Summers), the irony in his previous arguments about the English prejudices towards the Irish is exposed. Sam Turrell gives a brilliant performance as Michael; adopting with ease the measured diplomatic liberalism his character needed to show throughout to contrast the seemingly old fashioned views of his family and their friends. His apparent disgust and embarrassment at his Father’s prejudice and Jimmy’s aggression as well as his genuine attempts to protect his wife from it, seemingly represent a more modern take on ethnicity and immigration.

As well as the catalysts of Michael’s return, and the revealing of an ex-marital affair on the part of Marion, we then have the plot turn full circle as Con’s bisexuality is exposed by Jimmy. The fact that Con finally seeks emotional refuge in his homosexual relationship with a local black construction worker is the ironic icing on the cake so to speak! All in all, the play emphasizes some very relevant disputes about immigration today in a carefully crafted display of love and hate at their most extreme.

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Reviewed 07/06/14

By Emily Mae Winters

20th May- 7th June 2014
Pentameters Theatre, London, NW3.





BLOODY SWINE                                                                          

BLOODY HARD WORK                              








First review is in for NO BLACKS, NO DOGS, NO POLES. The reviewer sees the play as ‘a new look at an old problem’ and gives it a fairly decent write-up. I was pleased with it, and I think the cast can be too. There are several more reviews due out on Wed/Thurs this week. Looking forward to them!


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