Manchester Theatre Awards

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I’m Frank Morgan : Rewired

Joe O’Byrne
Joe O’Byrne
The Kings Arms, Salford
12 April 2018 to 14 April 2018

Writer/director/sole performer Joe O’Byrne has reworked his original 1999 play I’m Frank Morgan   with topical references adding a ‘state of the nation’ aspect and an entirely new subplot. A few years ago there was a fashion for directors to re-cut films that had been popular on their initial release and the result was often just a more unwieldy version of the original. I’m Frank Morgan: Rewired does not avoid this indulgent approach – the original taut one hour play now runs for two hours - but it is a fascinating update to very good source material.

The original version of the play could have been perceived as an interior monologue with the central character trying to come to terms with the guilt that his extreme approach to life has generated. Rewired on the other hand has a definite physical setting: The Ace of Spades club owned by loan shark Frank Morgan. The setting allows O’Byrne to establish a theatrical background for the show – although he is the only actor and addresses his remarks direct to the audience Rewired is not simply a monologue.

The physical approach to the material is apparent from the opening as Frank Morgan staggers onstage drenched in blood waving a stained hammer. The club setting allows O’Byrne to vary his delivery with some speeches made in the style of a stand-up comedian performing at the club. O’Byrne establishes an uncomfortably intimate relationship with the audience, explaining Frank’s twisted philosophy in a way that makes us feel like co-conspirators. It is hard to resist Frank’s reptilian charm.

O’Byrne establishes the mood of a delirious fever dream with Frank popping pills and gulping booze as he confronts his nightmares. Stephen King has remarked that, when all else fails, he will settle for giving the audience a good scare and O’Byrne clearly agrees with this approach jolting the audience with unexpected bangs and screams. Stella Grundy’s eerie vocals play over the loudspeakers as a reminder of what Frank has lost.

In the first Act new material establishes a threat to Frank’s empire from Serbian and Albanian mobsters which gives O’Byrne the chance to address the current divided state of the UK and the issue of immigration. More significantly, however, the new material humanises Frank Morgan (well, as much as it is possible to humanise a monster) by revealing his infatuation with a woman who has a morbid secret.

The tone of the new subplot is that of urban gothic horror which fits into O’Byrne’s Paradise Heights community where, past stories have established, angels and ghosts have been known to wander. Yet the first Act lacks focus; it is hard to see how the individual short stories told by Frank can join together to form an overall tale. Even towards the end of the Act it is hard to determine the direction the play is taking and it is only after the interval that a sense of momentum develops that begins to join the plot threads together.

The second Act returns to the original material with Frank facing the consequences of his actions. The original and the new material do not mesh well. In the original, Frank brings about his own downfall when his fragile ego and the need to preserve his hard man image prompts him to unforgivable action. In the new scenes, however, Frank is overwhelmed by the horror of the situation and does not seek revenge which seems out of character. I’m Frank Morgan: Rewired feels, therefore, like two separate stories running together but not linking. It makes for an absorbing but not completely satisfying play.

Reviewer: David Cunningham