JOHNJO REVIEW

REVIEW OF MY PLAY ‘JOHNJO’, performed recently CENTRAL ARTS, JORDAN’S LANE WATERFORD

03-08-2015 14;05;03 

A View from the Green Room.

Pat McEvoy.

Arts Correspondent..WATERFORD NEWS & STAR

DISTURBING ‘JOHNJO’ AT CENTRAL ARTS.

Johnjo McGrath enters singing ballad of The Rocks of Bawn and you just know that there is a story to be told. It was a favourite of his father who barely knew the words, or the notes, if the truth be told. A small landholder of twenty acres on the Comeraghs of which only five were arable, he carried ancient grudges around like boulders. Clearing land that was full of furze, rock and limestone, he cursed his circumstances and drank a lot of whiskey to dull the pain.

He references Crotty the highwayman and understands the shared experience of disenfranchisement. He curses the Curraghmores and their acres of lawns that would have fed the bellies of half-fed cattle. Not that he had too many of those. It’s the sense of privilege and entitlement about the Curraghmores that gets to him. It eats away at him and he sees no shame in stealing the odd sheep of theirs and selling it on to slaughter. He feels dispossessed and evicted from his land and blames it on the greed of the Anglo-Irish who never had enough.

A selfish father with a grievance, he drank all he had and when he drowned himself, Johnjo had to sell the bullock to meet the funeral expenses.   With only £2-10 the mother mortgages the land and moves into the town. A knife-incident leaving a man badly wounded, forces him to flee and it’s the boat in wartime for Johnjo.

Grim times. Working on the lump, with an array of identities to avoid detection, it’s a grim and lonely existence. Kavanagh’s lines of the women who love only young men ring in the ear of the aging man who moves between damp and over-crowded doss-houses while building the motorways. The gangers are always the same. Elephant John is a tough task-master who can really dish it out. And it’s always Paddy. Never Johnjo. Still no matter when you’re on the lump. The names tumble our like tourist dishcloths…Tom Dooley…Roy Rogers…Gene Aughtry…Donald F****in’ Duck.

But a life without children. And a wife. Before he knows it, he’s fifty. It’s been an empty existence claims Johnjo but odd facts begin to pop out from the coiled spring of resentment. Sexual ambiguities surface. He prefers the company of men. Their smell. Their friendship. A band of building brothers. It’s a world of sexual compromise and secrets hidden from even himself.

He hates Bannagher, the jumped-up Irish boss who also owns the pub in Cricklewood where the wages are paid. He only pays by cheque and charges 5% on cashing cheques for subbies who he knows can never have a bank account. When a trench collapses killing Johnjo’s only friendKennedy because of poor scaffolding, Johnjo settles accounts with Bannagher in the old time-honoured way of blood-payment.

Eamon Culloty is excellent as the spiteful-regretful-sexually-ambivalent Johnjo. In what was once a best suit, he brings the whole range of despised Paddy to the stage. It’s a performance that’s always highly charged and directed with great sympathy by James Power. The emptiness of a wasted life is what remains with you after the performance. There’s nothing simple about a performance that seems to constantly search for answers and, perhaps, other ways to have gone about his business. His father’s son, he doesn’t get his sense of dispossession from the ground. He doesn’t blame the father and scoffs at Larkin’s line: they f**k you up, your mum and dad’. ‘No’ Johnjo declares ‘I f**ked them up’.

Tom O’Brien’s writing always seems to drive Johnjo on to a conclusion based on the navvies’ experience.  His wisdom is bought at a price that no one  should really have to pay. O’Brien lays Paddy’s experiences in post-war Britain bare…lodgings in damp rooms crammed with other Paddies trying to get by. Weekends trying to dull the pain of existence through drink and then looking for a sub on Monday to get through the week.

Great to see Waterford playwright Tom O’Brien’s work on a Waterford stage. Let’s see more of it.

THE BATTLE OF WAPPING (1986)

THE BATTLE OF WAPPING (1986)

They pushed us once, they pushed us twice

Their steeds with nostrils flared

They forced us back with horse and shield

As if we weren’t there.

They bussed them in from out of town

The workers who replaced us,

No union man would cross the line

No scabs would dare to face us.

*

We were bopping in Wapping

Till the fuzz rolled up,

We were copping in Wapping

Till Murdoch fucked it up.

Don’t buy the Sun, don’t buy the Sun

Have some fun, burn the fucking Sun

*

The miners they had just been ruined

We should have known the score,

But Thatcher’s thugs took us for mugs

So we had to come back for more.

For one long year we held our ground

We wouldn’t let the bastards pass,

Till Murdoch said ‘block print is dead

So yield you scum or kiss my ass’.

*

We were bopping in Wapping

Till the fuzz rolled up,

We were copping in Wapping

Till Murdoch fucked it up,

Don’t buy the Sun, don’t buy the Sun

Have some fun, burn the fucking Sun.

*

St Katherine’s Dock looked like a war zone

Awash with bleeding heads and limbs,

While the backsliders, scabs and careerists

Sat in the shade sipping their Pimms,

Wapping is the new Jerusalem

Fleet Street has been; now Fleet Street is gone

Read all about it, everybody shout it

Murdoch’s steamroller is still rolling on.

*

We were bopping in Wapping

Till the fuzz rolled up,

We were copping in Wapping

Till Murdoch fucked it up.

Don’t buy the Sun, don’t buy the Sun

Have some fun, burn the fucking Sun.

PLAY ON

PLAY ON

Ensconced here in contemplation

Your presence overwhelms me

Arms outstretched, yet never chiding

Even knowing my ways were wrong

Burning both ends speeds up damnation

I can see that now;

Lust living in the wings

While the songs sang themselves

And courage dredged from the bottle

While the melody lingered on

Music was my life

But you changed it all;

Your song will still be nectar, Lord

When all this is gone…

BLOODY MOTHER FUCKING ASSHOLE by Martha Wainwright

NOW THERE’S A SONG!

“Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole”

Poetry is no place for a heart that’s a whore
And I’m young & I’m strong
But I feel old & tired
Overfired

And I’ve been poked & stoked
It’s all smoke, there’s no more fire
Only desire
For you, whoever you are
For you, whoever you are

You say my time here has been some sort of joke
That I’ve been messing around
Some sort of incubating period
For when I really come around
I’m cracking up
And you have no idea

No idea how it feels to be on your own
In your own home
with the fucking phone
And the mother of gloom
In your bedroom
Standing over your head
With her hand in your head
With her hand in your head

I will not pretend
I will not put on a smile
I will not say I’m all right for you
When all I wanted was to be good
To do everything in truth
To do everything in truth

Oh I wish I wish I wish I was born a man
So I could learn how to stand up for myself
Like those guys with guitars
I’ve been watching in bars
Who’ve been stamping their feet to a different beat
To a different beat
To a different beat

I will not pretend
I will not put on a smile
I will not say I’m all right for you
When all I wanted was to be good
To do everything in truth
To do everything in truth

You bloody mother fucking asshole
Oh you bloody mother fucking asshole
Oh you bloody mother fucking asshole
Oh you bloody mother fucking asshole
Oh you bloody mother fucking asshole
Oh you bloody…

I will not pretend
I will not put on a smile
I will not say I’m all right for you
For you, whoever you are
For you, whoever you are
For you, whoever you are

HIT ME WITH YOUR SELFIE STICK

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HIT ME WITH YOUR SELFIE STICK
In the deserts of Sudan
And the gardens of Japan
From Milan to Yucatan
Every woman, every man
Hit me with your selfie stick
Hit me, hit me
hit me now you selfish prick
Hit me, hit me, hit me
Hit me with your stupid stick

Hit me slowly, hit me quick
Hit me, hit me, hit me
With your stupid fucking selfie stick

(With apologies to Ian Dury and the Blockheads)

COMING OF AGE

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COMING OF AGE

Twenty one years of it;
I thought you might cry enough
You know – the tough gets going
When the going gets tough

But not a bit of it;
We are still going strong
I have wronged you on and off
But you have righted all the wrong

I hope you never get sick of it;
That love will carry you on
Me? I’m already in the thick of it
Clearing the path for another twenty one!