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Intimacy in "An Irish Intervention"

A Guest Blog by Squirrels, for Short

When Barb first approached me about being involved in the [FAHnFEST] roundtable, this sketch was in the forefront of my mind straight away. I think “An Irish Intervention” is one of the first stage sketches that I saw from Foil Arms & Hog, and it certainly has sentimental value in that regard.

But then I had to consider: how does this sketch fit into the theme of our discussion, which is intimacy. As I pondered that question more deeply, and explored why I like the sketch so much, I came to the conclusion that one of the key reasons is indeed because of the different ways intimacy is displayed or comes across.

Firstly, I love the connection that Foil Arms & Hog have with their live audience, and how quickly they are able to achieve it. As the recording of the sketch was done at Vicar Street, it takes place on a large stage in front of a large audience. The characters do move around within that space a lot, no doubt partly for the benefit of the audience. Despite the largeness of the venue, the audience is drawn into being part of the sketch very early on, as Declan addresses them to say, “We’re here to listen to whatever Sean has to say for himself”. The breaking of the fourth wall continues as the son, Sean, enters the living room and exclaims “Jesus, what’s everyone doing here?” at the audience, and again when he asks them plaintively “What problem??”

At a minute and a half in, Sean, the son, furiously demands for Darren (an audience member) to admit to owning the bottles of water. There is a brief departure from the script as Foil observes “he’s never drunk anything that’s not a protein shake or a pint”. Now, as a viewer watching the sketch far, far away and many years later, these moments still make me feel like I am a part of the whole experience. I, too, become part of the audience. “It’s as if they were talking to me,” I say fondly to myself.

In contrast, the off-stage version of the sketch is filmed in an actual living room with a couple of extras as additional family members attending the intervention. The audience’s perspective is through the lens of the camera only – as an unacknowledged and invisible third party – and there is no breaking of the fourth wall. While the setting itself is more intimate, I would argue that the live sketch achieves a greater feeling of intimacy because of the real-time connection between the audience and the characters.

The second kind of intimacy I want to discuss is physical intimacy. To quote myself from a discussion I had with Barb a few months back, after her Foil Arms & Hog interview came out:

“One of the reasons I love An Irish Intervention so much is the extent of physical interactions between all three. Part of me is probably a bit jealous that I did not grow up in such a touchy-feely family”.

Of course, the characters in this sketch are a family, albeit a family in crisis with emotions running high, and the figure of an absent father/husband heavily overshadowing both the past and the present.

I couldn’t help but do some sketch analysis to come up with some data. For instance, there are twenty-three occurrences of physical contact between characters in the live sketch, with eleven in the non-live version. In the live sketch, eleven of these happen between Declan and Mary, three between Mary and Sean, six between Declan and Sean, and three between all three characters.

Without a doubt, this is a touchy-feely family, though the physical intimacy between the characters, whether it be hand-holding, hugging or reassuring pats on shoulders, is sometimes at odds with their language and tone. As far as the dialogue is concerned, there are examples of mistrust, misdirection, verbal aggression, put-downs and outright lying. This is obviously for comedic effect, and we all laughed at the “Well, at least he was a bit of craic” response to Sean’s assertion that his dad had been a violent, abusive alcoholic. The physical contact in the sketch, when it occurs, is never violent or aggressive, or even hints at being that way.

Close to 2 and a half minutes of the live sketch, that is more than one-third, are spent with the characters in physical contact. Is it true that a reasonable portion of this time is due to Hog doing his best to make Arms crack up? Why yes, it is. Was it necessary for the characters to remain holding one another throughout? Possibly not. This is one of the Foil Arms & Hog enigmas that I haven’t quite worked out yet, not least because I have zero background in drama or acting and understanding what is the norm in these situations.

On the one hand, I kind of assume that corpsing in the middle of a sketch is probably a little bit unprofessional, even as it amuses us more than the original sketch. On the other hand, in this sketch and in other outtakes, I note that they do not move from their set positions, with the hand-holding or hugging paused until they can resume the script, and in this regard I feel that they are maintaining their professionalism. Either way, this is the third kind of intimacy, that between the lads themselves. That sense that all three are utterly comfortable with one another in any situation, both on stage and off stage, adds an extra dimension of accessibility, acceptance and openness to their work.

Notwithstanding the ‘violent abusive alcoholic’ line, and Arms / Sean’s observation that “this is such a fucked up family”, there is no sign of toxic masculinity anywhere. And I am so grateful to Foil Arms & Hog for that.

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