Your Only Man by Annie Caulfield

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BBC Radio 3, 31 August 2008

The subject of this new play sounded particularly intriguing. Brian O’Nolan was a civil servant working regular hours in Dublin, who spent his spare time writing satirical novels under the pen-name Flann O’Brien, and a political column as Myles na gCopaleen. Author Annie Caulfield imagined a situation where the three personae encountered one another and battled for intellectual and emotional control of the man who embodied them all. Radio seemed the ideal medium for this kind of play, as it could readily challenge the boundaries separating imaginative reflection from dramatic narrative.


Sadly the finished piece of work proved a disappointment. Caulfield drew on the familiar Oirish stereotypes – drunkenness, a capacity for verbal embellishment, religious jokes and fighting – without explaining how and why they influenced O’Nolan’s personality. I never got the feeling that she was particularly interested in her subject-matter, but rather created a pastiche of Joyce’s Ulysses, with the central character encountering a series of picaresque adventures and trying to make sense of them through reflection.  The fact that O’Nolan was played by Ardal O’Hanlon didn’t help; despite frequent use of bad language, he never seemed to go beyond the lovable persona established in his television series Father Ted and My Hero. He impersonated rather than inhabited the role, which served to increase the listener’s alienation from the material.  By the end of the play I felt a sense of relief, tinged with regret that the author had not told me much more than what I already knew about O’Nolan the man or the writer.