Directed by Richard Eyre
★★★ (out of five)
Until November 6
DESPITE facing his ‘biggest challenge’ to date — having to sing and dance while acting on stage — Irish star Rory Keenan proved himself well able for the task in London’s Southbank.
The Dublin actor leads the cast in a revival of Luigi Pirandello’s Liola which opened with gusto at the National Theatre this month.
And while it’s clear singing is not his forte, his acting, dancing and general merry-making on stage more than outweigh the need for perfect vocal chords.
In fact in the title role it is Keenan who drives this play from start to bittersweet end; bringing the 19th century cad to all womanising life, with an effervescent twinkle in his eye and a cloaked sadness in his stride.
His performance proves most tantalising for the modern audience in this short one-act production of the Italian story of love, loss and lust, as reimagined by Tanya Ronder and directed by Richard Eyre.
Pivotal also to Keenan’s success is the environment provided by Ronder’s interpretation of the tale, set within a small Sicilian village in the midst of an almond harvest, but played out by an entirely Irish cast and band.
And the choice to diverge from the tradition of the original piece, while still placing it in Italy, is a risk that worked out very well indeed for all involved — not least because of the calibre of actors who feature in the fast-paced production.
While no one disappoints across the cast — from the young, taunting village girls to the rich landowner, village patriarch and heir-hungry villain Uncle Simone — some do stand out.
Aisling O’Sullivan is riveting in her desperate portrayal of Croce Azzara, the cousin of Uncle Simone who hopes to keep his wealth within the family and to that end is happy to offer up her daughter to assist in satisfying his need for an heir.
Rosaleen Linehan puts forward her consistent and comedic best as the aunt of Mita, the young woman unfortunate enough to have become Uncle Simone’s long-suffering wife.
But the stage is at its brightest when Liola descends upon it, with Keenan’s performance both hilarious and tender and his hip swaggering enactment of the man with three boys by three women one that will capture the hearts of even the most monogamous of theatre-goers.
Liola runs at the National Theatre until November 6.