Gromurph Productions’ latest show “Dear Frankie” by Niamh Gleeson and directed by Frank Murphy is a remarkable insight into the life of Frankie Byrne. An Irish radio presenter, Frankie is asked to present a show that helps housewives with all those mundane domestic problems, such as the best way to remove beetroot stains from clothing. Instead, Frankie persuades the producer to let the show, ‘The Woman’s Page’, be an outlet for women to share the problems of the heart by writing to Frankie and receiving some wise advice over the air waves in return.
“Dear Frankie” is a series of vignettes that show glimpses of significant moments of Frankie’s life, including her relationships with family, friends and lovers. Alide Chaney portrays the many facets of Frankie very well particularly within the constraints of small scenes. Chaney takes us on the rollercoaster ride of emotions and circumstances that Frankie endures during her life, some of which are harrowing.
Interspersed with these moments of Frankie’s life, the letters sent to Frankie, and her responses, are read out and performed. While Chaney plays the role of Frankie throughout, Mike Anthony Sheehy and Jennifer McGrath play the other roles, which are many. Sheehy plays Frankie’s long-term partner Frank and the radio producer, but the memorable moments are as the doctor delivering Frankie’s baby and as the peculiar man looking for love. Though his appearances are brief, Sheehy’s presence grounds the play and imbues comedic undertones without falling into carriacature. McGrath plays Frankie’s sister Esther and the numerous, mostly female letter writers that feature on ‘The Woman’s Page’. At times it was exhausting to keep up with the many characters but McGrath approaches each one with aplomb.
The reading/performing of the letters and Frankie’s replies are at times hilarious and often sad and pitiful. Sheehy and McGrath do an amazing job to emdody all of these roles and they seem to relish the opportunity. While the highlights of the play are in the reading/performing of some of the letters, the device also interrupts the flow of Frankie’s story which was difficult to reconcile. I would recommend cutting some of the letters from the script, and having others as voice overs during scene changes, allowing only the ones that were particularly funny, sad or propelled Frankie’s story to physicalise.
Director and producer Frank Murphy has created a heart-warming show that allows the actors to shine. The set is functional and beautifully realised with the façade reminiscent of a large, old-fashioned radio. The lighting and sound choices enhance the story, though the slow lighting cues hinder the action at times. The costumes matched the era and cleverly prompted our attention to the different characters that emerged.
“Dear Frankie” enjoyed a sold out season at the Kidogo Art House, Bathers Beach, Fremantle which is an excellent venue in a beautiful location. If it is to become a regular performance venue I hope they will invest in, or attract funding for some raked seating for audiences to enjoy the shows.
Photo credit: John Reed