I bumped into a friend one night in a pub earlier in the year. He and others had just been to Catalpa and raved about the show and the performance. He has been to many plays. That night he said that Catalpa was one of the best he had ever seen.
That build-up created a sense of expectation that was not fulfilled for me that night – partly by comparison with another one-man play seen a few weeks before, but mainly due to my lack of knowledge as to the history of Fenian times. It was good but not the best.
Mikel Murfi in The Man In The Woman’s Shoes remains high in my appreciation for his delivery and his use of pause and silence, filled with facial expression, shrug or posture.
Catalpa, from the outset, was definitely not of a similar speed. It was so much faster. It had to be as there was so much more lines and actions to be conveyed. On the night the speed meant that one did not have long to appreciate the many different characters, and the odd animal, played.
Thinking back now, there were much more lines to be conveyed. There were more characters in Catalpa than Woman’s Shoes and they were all distinct. Purely from a quantity perspective, Donal O’Kelly had a tougher gig than Mikel Murfi but I didn’t appreciate that then.
The play did prompt the purchase and reading of two books on the subject. These have served to create a sense of awe and amazement as to the play and the performance.
The books provided a lot of detail as to the planning and execution of the escape and the journey back. But did they provide a lot of new information? No. The play had provided all the detail and historic record without the background and incidental information, and footnotes, that a book can provide.
Yesterday, I read of a headstone to be erected to Martin Hogan in Chicago and I recognised the name from the play.
Four months after seeing it, I now fully appreciate why it was recommended so highly.
It is being staged at the Ballymaloe Grainstore this Sunday. Go. Treat yourself.
You will be impressed with the story, the play and the performance. If you are anything like me, the extent of appreciation will only mature like good wine.