BY MR FARQUHAR - stage play

Premiered Waterside Theatre, Derry, 24th - 29 September 2013

To view the trailer: BY MR FARQUHAR


"BY MR FARQUHAR was a complete and utter joy to watch."

"[We were} totally and and utterly captivated throughout."

"Incredibly moving...BY MR FARQUHAR really deserves to be seen again (and again)."

"Truly beautiful... A privilege to see it. It deserves to be seen by many, many more audiences "


Review no 1: Belfast Telegraph, 27 Sept 2013


Set in the bitingly cold winter of 1706, the ailing playwright George Farquhar suffers a double whammy of suffocating, stifling, all-consuming writer's block interspersed with wracking bouts of deadly tuberculosis. The play explores the life and legacy of the world-renowned Londonderry playwright George Farquhar, one of the most enduring Irish literary figures.

Detailing the tragic final six weeks of his life at the tender age of 29, Farquhar furiously pens what becomes his masterpiece, The Beaux Stratagem, one of the greatest comedies of manners.

Starring Derry-born Farquhar fanatic Stephen Bradley, the actor immerses himself in the role of Farquhar, conveying each and every emotion of frustration, isolation and destitution to comic effect, due in no small part to the witty dialogue.

Dublin playwright Lindsay Sedgwick portrays each scene to perfection, leaving the audience with a poignant understanding of the agonies which tormented Farquhar in his last days.

Beset with anguish, Farquhar is banished from his marital home, and instructed to return only when he has written a play and made money to support his family.

Reminiscing over his life through conversations with his landlady Mistress Kempe, Farquhar flirts with taboo subjects for his time.

This small production has a big impact on the audience.

Link to review:

Review no. 2. Si’s Sights and Sounds


A soothingly downbeat cello melody is faintly heard as the audience search for their seats in Derry-Londonderry's Waterside Theatre. To the right of a large, fully draped white curtain in the centre of a rustic and minimalist set sits a washerwoman at work, with only the slightest flicker of candlelight to help. She appears so annoyed by the lack of light and atmosphere in her setting that she immediately resorts to taking a swig of ale from the mug beside her. Or perhaps she just needs a break.

The "washerwoman" in question is actually actress Kate O'Rourke, getting into character as Mistress Kempe, the active, buxom landlady of truly LegenDerry playwright George Farquhar. For the uninitiated, Farquhar is one of the best known and loved playwrights to come from the island of Ireland, his invaluable contributions to restoration comedy having endured for over three centuries.

By Mr Farquhar, written by Lindsay Sedgwick and directed by Caroline Byrne, is one of a series of theatrical events from Jonathan Burgess's Blue Eagle Theatre Company dedicated to celebrating the life and work of the famous playwright over a two week period.

The play is set in 1706, shortly before Farquhar's death. When we first see Farquhar, played with deceptively sly apathy by local actor and Farquhar fanatic Stephen Bradley, he wears an unsettling smirk that suggests he is not to be taken at face value. His ragged clothing and hangdog face suggest an almost stereotypical image of the struggling playwright, a man who is not basking in glory from the inspiration his plays are giving to early eighteenth century Londoners.

Feeling like "an animal of immense and hairy proportions", his self-pitying soliloquies to the audience depict the depression he allegedly feels over both estrangement from his wife and daughters and the struggle to finish his final play. Or is he hoodwinking us? For on one hand, he thinks the working title of his "comic masterpiece" literally "stinks" and briefly holds up a quill with a shrug, as if to say "why bother"? But on the other hand, there are moments where he joyfully sings and boasts about successfully completed the outline of the play. Bradley's depiction of Farquhar's varying moods make for great comic value, but initially, it is hard to care very much about the man.

Enter landlady and Mrs. Lovett soundalike Mistress Kempe, and the immediate fear that these two will have a Sweeney Todd dynamic, with the lady's love for the man inspiring him to continue and/or finish his work against the odds. Thankfully, By Mr Farquhar is no Shakespeare In Love. Here, Farquhar's inspiration comes not merely from the lady herself, but from absolutely everything that happens both in and around him during the remainder of the play.

O'Rourke plays Kempe as a tough nut to crack. She is the sort who will not be condescended to, despite being made to wait on Farquhar at every opportunity. In other words, she is a heavyweight of a presence, but to Farquhar, is she a paperweight, a makeweight or a weight on his shoulder? This is explored compellingly through the depiction of Kempe's role as a servant and as both an ear and an aid for the playwright's words.

By now, the play is freely alternating between Farquharian monologue and periodical dialogue between the two cast members, showing the male "hero" up as a desperately determined writer who seems no longer able to draw the line between theatre and real life in his work. He discusses what being in an auditorium feels like. He references Shakespeare and, in a rather anachronistic turn, Billy Joel ("And so it goes...") *. He talks to Kempe about the possibility of getting closer to her, but, being married, she angrily knocks him back. He even goes as far as putting his feet in a pot of urine in what feels squirm-worthy to us, but enlightening to him.

Even more enlightening, for both Farquhar and the audience, is the Derry bard’s realization that he has "put too much of himself" into the play, according to Kempe. For the first time, she cracks a pleasant smile. And so do we, knowing that Farquhar will have to dig a little deeper to finish his "masterpiece". It is how he does it that enthrals us.

One still does not quite sympathize fully with him over the loss of his father and mother, as Bradley's portrayal and the tone of the play have been a little too laid back up to this point. But the lessons he learns, about heritage, marriage and parenthood, are appreciated. By reminiscing, and confiding in Kempe, he reawakens to his significance as a playwright and as a responsible parent. As he carves a doll for one of his daughters, and the strains of "Danny Boy" are heard off-stage, The Beaux' Stratagem is born.

And, as the playwright falls victim to tuberculosis and is forced to fight even harder to finish his play (a telling reminder of how working so hard can ruin one's health), a genuinely caring bond between Farquhar and Kempe finally envelops. Bradley and O'Rourke work extremely hard to convey the strengthening emotions they feel both towards their work and one another.

BY MR FARQUHAR ends on a hugely satisfying note, with the playwright apparently letting his demons rest, acknowledging his inspirations, and leaving to enjoy the finished production and possibly a drink with his landlady. One might argue that it is a cheat to at last fully connect with Farquhar and Kempe just as they are leaving the stage, but it is actually the perfect ending to the play. For we have liked them all along; it just took ninety minutes for us to discover their emotional warmth. And perhaps that, in itself, is the central appeal of Farquhar's writing.

- Si Sights and Sounds

Review link:

* Author’s note: I have no intentional reference to Shakespeare or Billy Joel in the play!


THEY MADE IT HAPPEN! - The cast and crew

Stephen Bradley - George Farquhar
Kate McSwiney O'Rourke - Mistress Kempe
Jonathon Burgess of Blue Eagle Productions - producer
Caroline Byrne - Director
Fiona Ryan - Designer
Ilo Tarrant - Lighting Designer
Darrell Bracegirdle - Stage Manager
Arthur Oliver-Brown - Production Manager
Alan Wright - composer
Ben McGonigle on keyboard, Janice Channing on flute and Cliodhna McAteer on cello
Laura Willis of Thursday's Child - marketing
Ben Willis of Hijump - poster design

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