Drama continued to find its feet post-pandemic (when only modest productions found their way to the BSR stage, such as Michael Frayn’s Matchbox Theatre and a part of Waiting for Godot). Last year’s excellent Blithe Spirit was followed this November by another cleverly-plotted piece of stagecraft, Lennox Robinson’s The Whiteheaded Boy. First produced in the significant year 1916, it tells the story of the Geoghegan family: the youngest son, Denis, is his widowed mother’s favourite, and all the other siblings suffer by comparison. When – yet again – he fails his TCD exams, the oldest brother, George, decides Denis must leave and go to Canada. Trouble ensues, a trouble that gradually cranks up over the first two Acts, and culminates in the third.
One of the features of the play is the series of stage directions which amount to opinionated commentary, and so the decision was taken to have an actor voice these: Cheuk Yin Wong confidently came onto the stage at the start, introducing and commenting on the three women who had taken their positions after setting out rugs – Mrs Geoghegan, the mother of the family (Phoebe Landseer), her daughter Kate (Clodagh Walsh) and her crocked old maid Hannah (Melina Paulsen). He then headed off to man the PA system, his disembodied voice guiding the audience to their amusement. Four of Mrs Geoghegan’s other children followed soon after: Jane (Bibiire Oke-Osanyintolu), Baby (Emilia Hager), Peter (Euan Flanagan) and the effective head of the family George (Hal Somerville). Any production depends on those playing these parts to delineate their distinctive characters clearly, and present a strong sense of the family dynamic, and all these performers managed that well.
They were gradually joined by the Aunt Ellen (Sofia Gill Torrejon), Jane’s intended Donough (JJ Beglan O’Connell), and the final ‘child’, the feckless charmer Denis (Aran Murphy), the white-headed boy himself, as well as his fiancée Delia Duffy (Henrike Tertilt). All three were new to the Columban stage: one of the cheering things about drama here is the willingness of pupils to step forward and volunteer themselves to perform to an audience of their peers.
The second Act saw the delayed arrival of Delia’s father John Duffy, a recognisable ‘type’ in rural Ireland, with his fingers in every pie, dealing not just with his business interests but his daughter’s romantic ones. Naoise Murray was most effective in this role, giving the production a boost of energy with his stage presence: both he and Phoebe Landseer have performed in several productions across the years, and in their final one they showed how important such experience is.
The final Act saw everything come together, and it was evident on all three nights that the audiences appreciated the pleasure of this: there are no dramatic events in this play, but instead the words provide the satisfaction. Credit is also due to Calvin She for his patient prompting: he was a busy man leading up to the public performances, but happily scarcely used on the nights themselves. Just as the play itself comes to a satisfying conclusion after its confusions and conflicts, so did the production come together to provide pleasure for the audiences, and a happy sense of achievement for the actors.
- Our Guide and Opinionated Commentator: Cheuk Yin Wong
- Hannah, a slow-moving maid: Melina Paulsen
- Mrs Geoghegan, a widow with six adult children: Phoebe Landseer
- Kate, her oldest daughter. Now 36, so little chance of marriage: Clodagh Walsh
- Jane, another daughter. Nice and quiet: Bibiire Oke-Osanyintolu
- Donough Brosnan, Jane’s intended for the last three years: JJ Beglan O’Connell
- Baby, yet another Geoghegan lass. Full of notions: Emilia Hager
- Aunt Ellen, Mrs Geoghegan’s sister-in-law. A bit cranky and full of schemes: Sofia Gill Torrejon
- George, the oldest Geoghegan son, and now the head of the family: Hal Somerville
- Peter, the classic neglected middle son. Nothing much one way or the other: Euan Flanagan
- Denis, the youngest of all the Geoghegans, and his mother’s unashamed favourite. The ‘white-headed boy’: Aran Murphy
- Delia Duffy, his fiancée. Not as simple as she looks: Henrike Tertilt
- John Duffy, her father, and one of the solidest men in Ballycolman. His wife died some years ago. On every Committee going: Naoise Murray
Costume, Set and Lighting: Mr R. Swift
Lighting & Sound Operation: Mr J. Girdham
Props: Ms D. Cullen
Hair and Make-up: Molly Mann and Liberty Jacquier-Kende
Production Assistant and Prompts: Calvin She
With thanks to Humphrey Jones, Gerry Pullman, Ted Sherwood, Elaine Healy, Form 2 Artistic Performance, and The Performance Corporation.
Directed and Produced by Mr R. Swift & Mr J. Girdham