CARNMORE/CLAREGALWAY’S Compantas Lir grace the Town Hall Theatre stage next week with its production of Bernard Farrell’s perennial favourite I Do Not Like Thee Dr Fell.
Formed in 1983, Compantas Lir has grown from strength to strength thanks to a strong acting cast, skilled crew, enthusiastic helpers, and a hard working committee. The group have featured strongly on the amateur festival circuit, garnering numerous awards down the years.
Premiered in 1979 at the Peacock Theatre, where it featured a young Liam Neeson in the cast, I Do Not Like Thee Dr Fell pokes fun at the whole concept of ‘therapy groups’, which had thrived during the late 1960s and 1970s. It was the first full-length play written by Farrell, who was working as a clerk with Sealink at the time.
The huge success of Dr Fell led to Farrell’s next two plays (Canaries and All In Favour Said No! ) being commissioned by the Abbey which enabled him to leave his job with Sealink and devote himself full-time to writing. In the decades since, Farrell has been one of Ireland’s most successful playwrights and Dr Fell remains perhaps his most popular play, enjoying frequent revivals.
The play is a black comedy that deals with the happenings at an all-night group encounter where Suzy, the American group co-ordinator, and her clients spend the night, in her own words, “in search of inner knowledge, of ourselves, and of others.”
Joe Fell, a member of the group, thwarts her efforts at every opportunity and in the process he mercilessly exposes the foibles of his fellow clients. Roger, a narcissian artist, is a veteran of encounter sessions in Berlin, London, Paris, and Oslo, as part of his “odyssey of self-discovery.”
Peter, a builder of select bungalows, is attending ostensibly because his wife, Maureen, is “highly strung.” He has some unresolved issues while Maureen, and while he initially appears docile and subservient, he comes into his own as the action unfolds.
Rita, a hypochondriac cat-lover, is wrapped up in her own world with memories of her imaginary husband. Finally there is Paddy, the group attendant, who represents normality and considers the various clients who attend those sessions to be “weirdos.”
“It’s a fine play,” notes Compantas director Philip Cribbins. “It sends up these pseudo-therapy groups and the person playing the therapist is this very organised, gung-ho, American. One of the clients that comes to the session is this chap Joe who turns out to be something of a saboteur.
“As the play develops we find he has come with the express intention of scuttling the session because of a personal grievance. The play is extremely funny and very well written, and there’s a very good balance between the laughter and a sadness that’s never very far away.”
While the play is more than 30 years old, its humour has not staled or dated in the least, Cribbins asserts.
“It’s as relevant today as ever,” he says. “Those kind of do-gooding, life-skill teachers, and therapists are still with us. In the past few nights we’ve done the play in Claregalway and Roscommon and it went down a bomb so it obviously still works as well as ever.”
The cast of Dr Fell features Ruth O’Driscoll as the therapist Suzy, Dermot Hession as Joe, and Paddy Greaney, Vincent Moran, John Heneghan, Mary McCarthy, and Liz Hession.
I Do Not Like Thee Dr Fell is at the Town Hall on Friday March 26 and Saturday 27 at 8pm. Tickets are available from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777.