The Course

a play by Brendan O’Carroll, directed by Jan Dench: performed 18th -21st May 2016 at The Warehouse Theatre, Weymouth

Brendan O’Carroll is a polarising sort of chap. ‘Mrs Brown’s Boys’ is a guilty pleasure of mine. I sometimes channel-hop into it, and always stay until the end because I am immediately roaring with laughter, no matter how daft it is. Laughter is never to be scoffed at. Even a cheap laugh – which is what many would argue O’Carroll’s humour is. It depends quite a lot on mugging to the audience and plenty of ‘feck’ and ‘shite’. But it turns that frown upside down. Laughter is good for whatever ails ye.

O’Carroll writes the scripts for ‘Mrs Brown’s Boys’ (as well as starring in it and populating the cast with his family). So one might argue that the TV show is enough to keep him busy. But he has also written several spin-off Mrs Brown novels, an autobiography – and a play: ‘The Course’. This was first produced in Ireland, where it apparently broke box office records, directing and starring in it himself, and subsequently toured Britain and the USA.

This play was performed by Weymouth Drama Club last week. They made a lovely job of it. I canvassed one or two of the audience and was told that WDC are always a strong company. I look forward to future productions at their little Warehouse Theatre. The jammy blighters have their own premises! They are serious about what they do (one must always be serious about comedy, in particular, of all the dramatic genres) and have the means (both in talent and premises) to do it well.

The script was very O’Carroll – easy to speak and easy to listen to, it was well-plotted and very funny, relying on plenty of ‘feck’ and ‘shite’ of course as dramatic punctuation. A classful of six losers is turned, in the space of two hours, into six vibrant human beings with futures. Sure, the characters begin as stereotypes and end up as different stereotypes, those who have been built up for a fall get one, and the journey the characters have been on is in no way extraordinary – but it is well told and no less true for treading well-worn paths. The gags come thick and fast. I particularly enjoyed the description of the insurance the six were to be let loose on the world to sell – if you listened closely (and the highlights of the policy were repeated just enough times so you got it) the exclusion clauses of the policy ruled out the possibility of it ever being paid out. Rebuttals was another particularly funny thread running through the students’ revision sessions.

‘The Course’ teaches prospective insurance sellers about PMA: Positive Mental Attitude – something which O’Carroll himself espouses. The back of the programme was all ‘about the author’ and there he gives two instances of people for whom PMA was crucial – Christie Brown, the ‘my left foot’ artist, and Nelson Mandela. O’Carroll claims he himself is a classic example of its power.

This play has been around for 20 years, and I’ve never come across it before, which I find extraordinary in itself. If anyone reading this is casting about for a funny, smallish cast (6 men: 2 women) play for the amateur stage – if you can handle the accents (which are essential) – this will make for a very amusing evening.

Oh – I nearly forgot: the incidental music! The music was composed and played (not live, sadly) by Simon Swarbrick, nephew of Dave and local-ish resident. It was brilliant! Irish diddly-aye music plus electronic elements. Swarbrick recorded fiddle, guitar, keyboard, something smallish and mandolin-like and maybe other instruments blended into the mix too. The result was a whole band playing. He is a very talented multi-instrumentalist and full-time musician and composer. The links were a delightful shop window of his talents. The result was completely appropriate (one motif was a braying donkey) and made me wish that the time between scenes could be longer (which is a first). I shall have to keep an eye out for gigs he’s involved in.

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