Soulpepper takes us on a journey across the Atlantic Ocean and into the heart of Dublin, Ireland, with their performance of Irish playwright Tom Murphy’s The Gigli Concert, directed by Nancy Palk. Considered by many to be Ireland’s greatest playwright, Murphy tells the tale of a mysterious Irishman going to a self-proclaimed “Dynamatologist” in an attempt to sing like the great Italian opera singer, Gigli. Undergoing six, one-hour sessions with the British doctor, the characters go through the ringer, both emotionally and physically, their process ending in a climactic Gigli performance.
However, with such an enticing plot line, the overall performance falls a bit flat. This is due to the run time of the show. Clocking in at almost two-and-a-half hours, this piece is long, and there are certainly points where you can feel the length. Several moments in the story feel recycled, particularly nearing the end of the first act, with the characters not exactly going in any particular direction. It isn’t until partially into the second act when things really start to pick up, as characters begin going through drastic emotional changes.
That being said, I have nothing but good things to say about the performances of the actors. Diego Matamoros, Stuart Hughes and Irene Poole completely wow the audience with their abilities to speak in English (Matamoros playing Dynamatologist JPW King) and Irish (Hughes and Poole as Irish Man and Mona respectively) accents. These accents are completely flawless and really help us believe that we are overseas in Dublin. The actors work incredibly well together and carry the performance fantastically, despite its length.
The set design by Ken MacKenzie, is very impressive. The action of the play takes place in JPW King’s office (and current residence). The set is built in such a way, as to reveal half of the office, and provides an ideal space where the actors can perform, without having to resort to cheating out to the audience, which for me is always a big thumbs up. Dressed up with bottles of booze, pull-out beds, and dirty laundry, the set helps set up a fourth wall for us to gaze into a very real world where the action takes place.
Music and lighting are one of the most effective parts of this performance, particularly the way Lighting Designer Steven Hawkins uses the lights outside of the set to convey the time of day. Throughout the course of a scene, Hawkins would have the light shining through King’s window switch from gray lighting (as if the weather is overcast) to a deep, dark blue. This is incredibly subtle, but really helps to balance out the pacing of piece.
In addition, Sound Designer Paul Humphrey made an excellent choice in his use of music in this piece, as the only music we ever hear are the recordings of Gigli himself. The combined efforts of Humphrey and Hawkins lead to a fantastic climactic moment, where, in his grief, JPW King is left in the spotlight, lip-syncing to Gigli. This is the best possible way to end this piece, and the two designs (combined with Matamoros’ stage performance) knock the climax right out of the park.
This play does take dedication to watch. It is a long piece, and it can feel long, but if your heart is in it, then you won’t care how long it is. If you wish to see a solid piece of theatre, and love Italian opera, then this is the show for you.
The Gigli Concert is running at Young Centre for the Performing Arts until May 16. For tickets and more information, visit https://www.soulpepper.ca/.
photo credit: Cylla von Tiedemann
featured in photo:Diego Matamoros and Stuart Hughes