“Who’re yeh havin’ it for?” ask Sharon’s friends with wide-eyed intrigue, early in The Snapper. Tight-lipped about the identity of her baby’s father, the young pregnant woman responds with the carefree assurance that makes Roddy Doyle’s 1990 novel so beloved: “I’m havin’ it for me”.
If standing up against a moralising society in 1980s Dublin was once the story’s strength, it now resembles a wistful trip back to a happier time in Doyle’s adaptation for the Gate Theatre. Sharon’s chaotic family home, with its signs of deprivation (Hilda Fay’s hard-working Veronica is eternally sewing clothes for her kids), is fitted with every decorative pattern of the period. Stage designer Paul Wills stitches together domestic furnishings and street detail into a construction of Doyle’s fictional and maudlin version of Dublin: Barrytown.
The obvious thing we might expect is a compelling mystery: a play uncovering the father of Sharon’s baby. Director Róisin McBrinn teases this with the subtly of a blow-horn (“Are y’alright Sharon?” blasts an omnipresent voice, like an existentialist dread). It’s unsurprising that the game is given up so soon, though we get more of Simon O’Gorman’s nicely idiotic George Burgess in return.
That leaves a play that’s most concerned with Sharon (Hazel Clifford) and her family coming to terms, especially her father. Simon Delaney’s foul-mouthed Jimmy can hurl a crowd-pleasing expletive with flawless precision, and his interest in the stages of gestation is pleasantly miraculous. Moments of emotional connection are harder to find. When he painfully informs Sharon she’s been the subject of his peers’ locker room talk, for instance, he shows little sign of heartfelt protectiveness.
In fact, as the episodic script roves through house rooms and nightclubs, grazing past scenes of gossiping and slut-shaming to spend time with Sharon’s family and friends (the sublime Kate Gilmore finds jokes where they’re not to be found), the plot seems to rarely advance. Why revisit The Snapper then? The ushering in of set pieces, gag-reaching props, a feed-good soundtrack of the 80s and veiled audience address suggests the discovery of an unlikely pantomime.
The one upside? Roddy’s Doyle’s clunky and dewy-eyed adaptation will sell out the Gate Theatre, Dublin’s most exciting theatre, where an experimental programme (including a dance-theatre adaptation of The Red Shoes; an Epic Theatre production of Look Back in Anger; the political musical Assassins) has struggled to find an audience.
The Snapper is on until 15 September 2018 at the Gate Theatre in Dublin. Click here for more details.