Last night I went to see The Field in Dublin’s Olympia Theatre. It’s the latest production of the John B. Keane play which gained international renown when it was adapted for the screen and starred Richard Harris as “The Bull” McCabe. In the Olympia’s production acclaimed American actor Brian Dennehy takes the role of The Bull. I expected great things from this production as I felt that Dennehy had the physical presence and acting chops to pull off the role.
Unfortunately I was disappointed. Dennehy’s voice is a film actor’s voice and it lacks the clarity and the projection required for the stage. While his physical presence is imposing due to his bulk, he does not command the stage in the same way that established stage actors do (For example, I went to see John Gabriel Borkman in the Abbey recently and Fiona Shaw was commanding and confident even when completely silent). I felt that Dennehy was very used to acting for screen and so the people who got his best performance were probably the other actors on stage with him. He simply couldn’t project his character beyond the first row of the audience.
Dennehy has received two Tony Awards and a Laurence Olivier Award in the past and is generally considered to be a fine stage actor. Perhaps I caught him on a bad night, perhaps he’s getting too old to play such a demanding role (he’s now 72), perhaps he isn’t connecting with the character, or perhaps it’s just that Richard Harris was exceptional as The Bull McCabe and no-one will ever come close to the perfection of his performance in the film.