The Rare Oul Times

A bombastic, fantastic tribute to Irish literature closes the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival

Monday – the start of the week and the end of the 12th Annual Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival. Director Sean Kelly takes to the stage at the Grand Opera House before the play to address the audience. He begins by thanking them for their continuing support and for bringing their somewhat delicate constitutions out for one last hurrah after a fortnight of revelry.

A warm welcome is then afforded to the Nomadic Theatre Company – the brains behind The Rare Oul Times – who have donated the money from this performance to next year’s festival.

The house lights go down and we find ourselves is in 1950s Dublin, in John Ryan’s famous Bailey Public House on Duke Street. The stage is bare, save for a table, two chairs and a couple of crates of Guinness. Brendan Behan (played by Oliver Moore) bounds into Baileys’ snug looking every bit the enfant terrible of his early years, which he described so vividly in his classic memoir Borstal Boy. Shirt open and brimming with characteristic bonhomie, Moore brings Behan’s imposing frame vividly to life.

Patrick Kavanagh (Ken McElroy) soon joins him on stage. McElroy looks the part as Kavanagh, with thick-rimmed spectacles, broad brimmed hat and greatcoat. The pair retire to a table to make a start on the tray of stout and whiskey, brought with him from the main bar by Kavanagh.

Alcohol infused and enthused, both of these Irish literary greats inhabit the bleary-eyed world of the bohemian bar-fly to great effect. As the drink is poured, Behan regales the audience with increasingly raucous quips and songs, describing the hustle and bustle of 20th century Dublin life.

The most touching of Behan’s cantations is ‘The Auld Triangle’. It is a song about life in Mountjoy Gaol, written by Behan’s brother, Dominic. Moore's lusty voice fills the auditorium. The audience does not hesitate to join in, which adds to the sentimentality of the night.

McElroy plays Kavanagh as the straight man to Behan’s court jester. The healthy, rural cynicism that Kavanagh developed in his birthplace, Inniskeen, balances out Behan’s bombastic tales of urban life. Yet Kavanagh is much more than a support act for Behan. A dry rendition of ‘Raglan Road’, a poignant tale of a doomed love affair, has the audience applauding the eerily accurate embodiment of the writer, who would go on to influence Seamus Heaney among many others.

The Rare Oul Times is a fantastic tribute to two men who have left behind a rich legacy for Irish literature. Moore and McElroy should be praised for both their generosity toward an important festival and for capping off a remarkable fortnight for the arts in Northern Ireland.