DUBAI–Danú Theatre Company is staging, for the first time in Dubai, the award-winning play, Big Maggie, by John B. Keane, one of Ireland’s top playwrights and writer of The Field, that went on to become a Hollywood movie starring Richard Harris and Sean Bean (Game of Thrones).
Running over four nights, with two matinee performances, from 4 to 7 June at Mall of the Emirates’ DUCTAC, Big Maggie is a compelling portrait of a woman who is determined to take control of her own life at all costs. The dialogue crackles with hilarious, caustic putdowns as the indomitable Maggie deals with her feckless family and unwanted suitors. Everyone wants a part of Big Maggie and her property but she has other ideas.
Set in 1960s rural Ireland,Big Maggie deals with explosive themes, challenging traditional, parochial norms, as well as turning the idea of the warm and loving Irish matriarch on its head. Machiavellian Maggie, the epitome of the ‘Ice Queen’, proves herself to be a sociopath as she views her husband’s death as liberation, where all piety, social convention and sentimentality are severed.
As Maggie seizes her opportunity to take absolute control of the family farm and business, she denies her four children their share, and drives each one away, in turn, with devastating consequences. All the while, she seems to take pleasure in manipulating each and every one of them or does she do it for their own good? Is she in fact saving them from a life devoid of happiness similar to the life she has led? One thing is for certain; nothing ever stands in her way.
Keane’s play is about exploding comfortable notions of the nurturing matriarch. The Irish mother has long been associated with either a warm tolerance for all her children’s failings or with politicised martyrdom, neither of which Keane gave room to gestate in his creation of Maggie Polpin. She’s “a dab hand at breaking spirits” and that, sadly enough, is very much true of Mother Ireland herself in the past and with the economic downturn of the past few years.
Danú Theatre Company’s founder, producer and director Padraig Downey says the play has a universal theme that connects with people. “Big Maggie is a beautifully written play with universal themes that will resonate among Dubai’s many cultural traditions – the importance of family ties, adherence to cultural norms in changing times, and the strife which can occur within a nuclear family unit when the head of the household dies,” he explains.
Downey worked in theatre for many years in New York, California, Paris, Rome, London and Dublin. Before becoming Drama Director and instructor in Dubai he worked in media on Fifth Avenue, New York as well as acting with the prestigious Blueroom Theatre Company in the US. He also worked as linguistic and cultural coordinator in The Irish Cultural Centre Paris meeting many of the Irish writers whose work he now produces.He is assisted by Georgiana Jennings.
Taking on the titular role of Maggie Polpin is Kathryn Pepper who appeared on the DUCTAC stage before in ‘The Mouse that Roared’. It is a change for Kathryn who normally spends her days working in an Abu Dhabi government agency. Lean Ban Breathnach, daughter of Sean Ban Breathnach, the legendary Irish radio and television presenter, proves that talent indeed runs in the family as she takes on the role of Katie Polpin- a daughter who will not let her mother have everything her own way. Lean has acted on Irish television before.
Sean Quigley, who has appeared on the Watergate Stage in Kilkenny City plays Maurice Polpin whose only desire is to work on the family farm and marry whom he chooses while Ciara O’ Donoghue appears as the innocent Gert Polpin. Mehan “AB” Lategan takes on the role of Mick, the eldest son who naturally feels the farm should pass to him under Irish land tradition. Taking on the role of Teddy Heelin is Ciaran Mulhearn, no stranger to the Dubai stage, having recently co-directed and starred in ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead’for Dubai Drama Group. Aimee Hedley, who also recently co-directed ‘Metamorphosis’ for Dubai Drama Group plays the role of Mary Madden while Celia Cookson who starred in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ last year plays Mrs Madden. Asad Raza Khan, who is a well-known actor on the local stage,plays the Old Man, while Sinead Hickie; star of ‘Sive’ by John B. Keane for Backstage in 2012’ plays Old Woman. Rounding off this accomplished cast is David Daly who plays Byrne. Perhaps he is actually a match for Maggie? Daly directed ‘Sive’, the aforementioned production produced for Backstage in 2012.
Danú presented the massively acclaimed, sold-out production of ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’ by Brian Friel a few months previously, which one Dubai critic referred to as one of the “finest pieces of theatre ever to brace a Dubai stage”.
Danú is producing Big Maggie in association with Padraig Downey, the Dubai Irish Society and La Clinique, JLT, with special permission from the Keane family.
Big Maggie is being staged at Kilachand Studio Theatre,DUCTAC,Mall of the Emirates,from 4 to 7 June at 19.30hrs, with Friday and Saturday matinées on 6 and 7 June at 14:30hrs.