Tag Archives: Dearbhla Molloy

“The Ferryman” at the Garrick Theatre

Superstar playwright Jez Butterworth’s latest drama was a hit before it even opened: the West End transfer was announced simultaneous to its sell-out opening at the Royal Court and a new cast will soon take the show into 2018. This long harvest day’s journey into tragedy is the story of the Carney family, farmers in Northern Ireland whose connections with the IRA haunt them. This is a big family drama – and not just due to the size of the household, but because of Butterworth’s exquisite writing.

There’s a luxurious feel to the show – although this is a working-class world – created by Rob Howell’s design and director Sam Mendes, who resists the temptation to rush a single moment. Three hours is a long running time for a new play, but every minute holds you. Above all, a huge company, including some extraordinary younger performers, are awe-inspiring. It really shouldn’t be possible to have so many characters so clearly delineated by their own compelling stories.

There’s a lot of laughter in the family, a real sense of warmth, and not a few Irish stereotypes. This has been commented on by Sean O’Hagan, better qualified than myself. To be sure, there’s a lot of whisky drinking and some gags around children swearing seem cheap, if effective. But the stories told, swirling around the discovery of a murdered family member’s body, broaden the play’s themes beyond the Troubles.

Myth and history populate the play. The past preoccupies Aunt Maggie Far Away, “visiting” from her dementia, and obsesses Aunt Pat, whose brother died in the Easter Rising: two brilliant roles engendering stunning performances from Bríd Brennan and Dearbhla Molloy respectively. Meanwhile Uncle Pat has plenty of anecdotes while, with another strong performance from Des McAleer (pictured top), enforcing the play’s theme of death, which escalates with such foreboding.

Tom Glynn-Carney
Tom Glynn-Carney

There’s a point to all the marvellously crafted yarns – The Uses of Story Telling, if you’re looking for a dissertation title. The tales form a link to violence inherited by the young. A terrific scene with four youths, led with febrile energy by Tom Glynn-Carney, shows them captivated by accounts of IRA leader Mr Muldoon (Stuart Graham) and the 1981 hunger strikers. In the shadows (there’s plenty of eavesdropping in this play – stories morph into rumour and hearsay, after all) is an even younger “wean”, skilfully depicted by Rob Malone, who is driven to desperate measures.

Laura Donnelly and Genevieve O’Reilly
Laura Donnelly and Genevieve O’Reilly

At the heart of the play is a love triangle that leads to star performances. A repressed affair between the play’s patriarch Quinn, performed with charming assurance by Paddy Considine, and his bereaved sister-in-law Caitlin, a role Laura Donnelly articulates marvellously, leads to some of the best dialogue. Although appearing relatively late, Quinn’s wife Mary is given her due through Genevieve O’Reilly’s quiet performance. The unrequited emotions of all three create an unusual love story that thrums with excitement. As Quinn’s IRA past rears its head with a tension that would please any thriller writer, Mendes’ strengths shine. The fear of what might come next hangs over the final hour of the show. Butterworth manages to juggle all this with enviable dexterity, producing a work of complexity and popular appeal.

Until 6 January 2018

www.TheFerrymanPlay.com

Photos by Johan Persson

“The Trojan Women” at the Gate Theatre

In Caroline Bird’s new take on Euripedes’ tragedy, the aftermath of the Trojan War finds the “crème de la femme” of the former empire held captive in the mother and baby unit of a prison alongside an anonymous pregnant woman in the role of The Chorus. If someone in labour chained to a hospital bed offends your sensibilities, then avoid the Gate Theatre on this occasion – it’s just one of several shocks in Bird’s powerful, vicious and unsettling text.

This is writing filled with passion and profanity and it’s guaranteed to disturb and provoke. But it lacks control and, like the subject matter, often borders on the grotesque, while the occasional injection of humour, with a handful of funny lines, falls flat. While the Greeks didn’t hold back when it came to suffering in their tragedies, Bird seems determined to outdo them and Queen Hecuba’s traumas are added to by The Chorus, performed viscerally by Lucy Ellinson, reminding us that the poor are the real victims of any war. As a moral focus it’s admirable, but it makes The Trojan Women relentlessly harrowing.

Bird exposes the audience in merciless fashion, while Christopher Haydon’s direction and Jason Southgate’s impressive set add to the intensity. And the performances are faultless. Dearbhla Molloy makes the most out of a complex Hecuba who is steely-cold and thirsty for vengeance. But the star of the night is Louise Bradley who takes on three roles and manages to convince in all of them. Sadly, no matter how well Bird’s strategy is pursued she doesn’t quite add enough to the original to make this new version worth enduring.

Until 19 December 2012

www.gatetheatre.co.uk

Photo by Iona Firouzabadi

Written 13 November 2012 for The London Magazine

“Ditch” at the Old Vic Tunnels

As The London Magazine’s resident theatre mole, your intrepid reviewer went subterranean to visit The Old Vic Tunnels for Beth Steel’s apocalyptic new play Ditch.

Located beneath Waterloo station and approached along a depressing back street, the venue is actually a happy compromise away from the more adventurous site-specific locations that can be something of an ordeal. It still gets cold and it smells a bit but, with comfy seats donated by Banksy and a bar that boasts no fewer than four designers, it is achingly cool and London’s most exciting new theatrical space.

More importantly, the creative team behind Ditch have used the venue well. Installations surround the auditorium. Plant-covered mill wheels are atmospherically lit and a dismembered tree hovers, upside down, over a bright red circle of cloth. It’s great scene setting and appropriate for the dystopian scenario that unfolds.

Although Ditch is set in the countryside and much of the action takes place out of doors, the survivor’s predicament is perfectly reflected by the large design team headed by Takis. Superb lighting and sound by Matt Prentice and Christopher Shutt add to constructing this frightening world. Here, while ‘security’ forces live in isolation with their housekeepers and search out ‘illegals’, there are some captivating moments – the sighting of a stag in the mist or the creation of a sunset that subtly suggests an atomic cloud.

There’s some superb acting as well. Sam Hazeldine plays the foul-mouthed Turner, dedicated to his soldier’s life with edgy brutality. Danny Webb is his commander, Burns, and convinces as a thoughtful, broken man who can remember what civilisation used to be like. Fighting off memories of the past as a strategy to survive is Dearbhla Molloy’s formidable Mrs Peel. This is a wonderful performance, as she looks after the men and herself with humorous, steely determination. Her other charge is the young Megan (Matti Houghton) who gives a touching portrayal full of small rebellions and a quest for love with spirited new recruit James (Gethin Anthony).

But what of the play itself? Steel has set out a standard science-fiction scenario with the odd little tactic of leaving out all the details. We are never told what has happened to the world and given next to no back-story for the characters. Avoiding specifics deprives us of questioning events or degenerating into adolescent paranoia. I suspect the idea is to focus instead on the characters’ reactions and some abstract ideas about the environment. This isn’t a trade off worth paying. Perversely, Steel ignores her own lesson that people can live in the moment and snatch joy in the worst of times to persist in a vision of the future both bleak and vague.

Until 26 June 2010

www.theoldvictheatre.com

Photo by William Knight

Written 21 May 2010 for The London Magazine