Happy Birthday Jacob, directed by Laura Bowler, returns to The New Theatre for a second time following its successful run in February earlier this year, and with some old faces, reprising their roles Bakru are back for a new revamped version of their story.
Happy Birthday Jacob centers around the eponymous Jacob and his 10 year old brother, Lucas living together following the departure of their parents seven years previous. Left to their own devices, Jacob is forced to work and provide for his brother, all the while counting down to his birthday when he finally turns 18 and can assume legal guardianship. This idyllic plan is suddenly threatened when “Mary”, the boy’s mother arrives back into their lives, mere days before his birthday.
Michael Marshall’s debut script shows all the potential for a thought provoking look into working class Dublin, setting it in opposition with the wide eyed innocence of youth. However, the dialogue forces the play to fall flat in places. Jacob (Stephen O’Leary) does the best he can with script which ultimately doesn’t allow him to be any more than a brooding teenager. Whilst Terry (Karen Kelly) injects some much needed humor into the script, she suffers from similar issues as O’Leary. 12 year old Finian Duff Lennon (Lucas) stands out in the piece, capturing the innocence and confusion of Jacobs brother proficiently whilst still allowing the piece to move forward when not caught up in the “grown up scenes”.
Ciara Murnane’s set design coupled with Bill Woodlands evocative lighting created some striking moments. In particular Jacob’s “nightmare scenes” which were not only highly effective, but haunting. The scene-changes that follow, on the other hand, had a tendency to slow the pace of the script, bringing us to an ending that, unfortunately, didn’t seem well thought out.
Happy Birthday Jacob‘s genuine comedic moments do allow the piece to feel real, particularly the brothers rendition of Celine Dion standing out as a true highlight. The chemistry in these segments is almost tangible which allows the piece to breath. It’s unfortunate these weren’t always at the heart of the play.
Finally hats off to Mary Sheehan for her costume design, 90s Dublin has never looked so stylish.