Playwright Richard Bean describes his new piece, The Big Fellah, as his 9/11 play, yet all the action takes place before the tragic date and focuses on a different terrorist organisation.
Set in New York and spanning three decades from 1972, The Big Fellah follows the members of an IRA cell as they provide money and munitions for the organisation’s terrorist campaign.
Finbar Lynch’s charismatic Costello is the big fellah of the title, New York’s main man when it comes to running IRA business. Impassioned by the plight of his people, he devotes his life to helping the cause. David Ricardo-Pearce’s enthusiastic young fireman Michael Doyle is eager to run a safe house in which Rory Keenan’s witty former Long Kesh prisoner Ruairi O’Drisceoil – who Bean often gifts with the plays best lines – can lie low.
They each have their own reasons for joining the fight, but over the course of 30 years both they and the fight alter. When the FBI starts to receive tip offs, all eyes look for the mole.
With a hefty helping of laughter, Bean wittily explores the notion of terrorism; the easy way of explaining away death as just following orders, the ability to see lives as simply pawns in a chess game, and the way in which, somewhere along the line, what you believe in and what you are fighting for may drift apart. It is somewhat disturbing that the mostly likeable, entertaining characters you invest in can live such dark lives.
Framed by memorable – though rarely for a pleasant reason – events from the period, The Big Fellah may be more about the basic nature of humanity than terrorism, as each character has to ask how far they would go in the fight for what they believe, and whether, in fact, they are fighting for what they believe any more, or just fighting.