There comes a time in a man’s life when he begins to question what it was all for, what his legacy will be, and whether he will go down in his family’s folklore as a great man or another name on the genealogical tree. That this time came to Da, (played wonderfully by Frankie McCafferty), as his son was about to celebrate “having a 100 years upon him,” and that the answer, Da thought, was the felling of said tree, are the comic spurs to the enormously witty Trad, now at The Bush Theatre in West London.
In the fast-paced opening dialogue, poor put-upon son Thomas (the brilliant Peter Gowen), browbeaten by his father’s angst, reluctantly admits to having a son some 70 years previous to “a girl da — a girl! a human lady,” and thus continuing the family line. So, with that, and the connecting of Da’s wooden leg to his shell-like bones, the journey begins, and Da and son shuffle a geriatric Irish jig, to the fiddler music, across the open-grave set they so convincingly already have one foot inside.
Set in Ireland at some time in the present, the two, known to the villagers as “one of (them) who was the other one’s father”, trample across Irish bog, stealing apples and pelting them at trains with the use of a hurley stick and getting into other mischief along the way. Their task is a difficult one, for “the child had no name, and the mother had no family name”. Indeed, the only information they have is that the mother’s name was Mary, and the child would have been born some 70 years hence that month. But in true Last of the Summer Wine-cross-Father Ted fashion, and with the aid of shopkeeper Sal (David Pearse) and the drunk and cantankerous Father Rice (Pearse again), they go about their task diligently until they have a name; Thomas… after his father.
With a name in their hand and some nous in their head, they get an address; an address that requires a further journey to an island, and another misdemeanour not befitting their matured years. Then comes, perhaps, tragedy, or at least a fitting end.
This is a multi-faceted production. There are, naturally for an Irish comedy, some tongue-in-cheek biblical references, (the miracle son born to Mary), and the almost obligatory anti-English remarks as the characters try to assert their Irishness over one another: “ I was Irish last night… I sang a ballad, then fought a man… an English man.” But all this is light-humoured and, due to the way Gowen, McCafferty and, to a slightly lesser extent, Pearse, deliver their lines, is very funny indeed.
Equally, there are approving nods in ode to the great Monty Python sketches, most notably when Da and Father Rice recount the story of Manus, “the hardest-working man the land ever knew,” who ploughed, harvested, and tilled until he was nothing but a tooth, and then still managed to carve his own headstone until the following autumn he died due to erosion. (No prizes for seeing parallels with the Story of the Black Knight.)
Trad is a beautiful story about fathers and sons cleverly written and packed with Mark Doherty’s dry sense of humour, intelligently funny observations, and clever witticisms. The cast members are not only convincing centurions, they also have impeccable comic timing and carry their roles off with some aplomb. The production and design, though minimal, are executed perfectly so as to benefit completely the play without unnecessarily distracting from what is an incredibly funny and moving story. Deservedly a winner of the 2004 BBC Radio Drama Award, and well adapted, this really is a must-see, to be sure.
Trad continues at The Bush until April 29. Online booking is available.
Reviewed by Jonathan Grant and Philippa Stewart