John Kelly, Irish painter and printmaker, 1932-2006

Press Cuttings Character Did Not Convince

An author’s main function in writing a play is to entertain. If his play also teaches a lesson, so much the better. The one thing an author must never be guilty of, however, is preaching. I say this with particular reference to John Kelly’s “The Third Day” which opened at the Gate Theatre last night. The play is basically a religious one in which the author attempts to express the message of Christianity in modern terms.

His spokesman is an old Dublin character named Ned Doyle who occupies a room in a tenement in Mountjoy Square. He is an incredible character who, with an unbelieving Ulsterman as his foil, mouths sermons about love, life and forgiveness. So far from the message being effective, it is quite embarrassing.

Mr. Kelly, undoubtedly, has a great deal to say. The trouble is that he has only a very vague idea of expressing it in theatrical terms. His play is a shapeless piece of work in which the characters jump from comedy to pathos, and his plot alternates between reality and melodrama with disconcerting rushes.

He strikes his best work when he is comic, and there are a couple of beautiful scenes with the two old codgers, Ned Doyle and Pat Maher, miming a scene in an unemployment exchange, or “taking off” some of the characters in the tenement. Unfortunately, these scenes do not compensate for the utter naivete of much of the remainder of the writing, and the appalling dialogue in what is intended to be the romantic angle.

The players did their best with the script, but no cast in the world could make anything of it. Best was Aidan Grennell, who worked extremely hard to bring the character of Pat Maher to life. Other parts were played by John Molloy – very good in his caricatures, mediocre in his “straight” playing; Elizabeth Davis, Iris Lawler (over-playing), Des Nealon, Joe O’Donnell, Derry Power and Ronnie Drew. Direction was by Yvonne Voigt.

M.M., 01.08.1961