PÁRAIC BREATHNACH'S latest seanachaí-cum-stand-up comedy show, The Macnas Was On Me, brings us from Connemara to Colombia, from the FCA to arts festival parades, and charts his colourful journey from a boyhood steeped in rural custom to his globe-trotting, genre-defying, times as an art and theatre maker.
The early episodes in the show vividly and hilariously evoke a Connemara world in which only three things matter –‘God, boat-racing and vengeance’. Wakes, superstitions, and sadistic teachers are recalled in brilliant detail. Breathnach also offers an etymology of the word ‘macnas’ along with specific examples of the different types of madness and high-spiritedness it describes. And there is the fateful childhood visit to see a touring play from the Abbey Theatre, an event which sowed the seeds for Breathnach’s career path as an adult.
As the action moves forward to the formation and early days of Macnas, Breathnach reminds us how the company sometimes met opposition from Galway’s ‘merchant princes’ and local authorities – the arts were not always the civic darlings they are today. He provides lively behind-the-scenes glimpses of Macnas' ‘greatest hits’ like Gulliver and sundry parades and shows, as well as tussles with bureaucrats. He also devotes some time recounting his sartorial exploration of the sarong – fittingly, he wears one for the duration of the show.
After a year or so touring his previous show Straight Outta Connemara, Breathnach has acquired a more relaxed stage presence with The Macnas Was On Me, unflustered by latecomers or any other glitches. There is plenty here to enjoy, especially in the Connemara sections which conjure up an entire community and way of life seen through the childhood lens of innocence, curiosity, and vulnerability.
The stories revolving around Macnas are amusing but too often feel like well-worn barstool tales. They have not been worked-up enough to pass muster as being theatre-worthy. They are frequently meandering and self-indulgent - even self-congratulatory. They lack the resonance and openness which animate much of the Connemara material. Indeed, the show as a whole is way too long; 20-30 minutes really should be cut from it.
The Macnas Was On Me has the makings of a very enjoyable show, at the moment it is only fitfully so. Breathnach needs go through the script with a trusty red pen and also replace the fat on some of the stories with muscle. Then it could be a contender.