Saturday 21 October 2017

Never too old for joyce

Things have got a bit Wilde at the Gate and Abbey Theatres of late. And I'm not just talking about their forthcoming productions of A Woman of No Importance and The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Eyebrows were raised recently when The Abbey Theatre announced their new season of plays.

And they will have to be surgically raised if Derbhle Crotty (mid-40s) and Stanley Townsend (early 50s) are to play the parts of Gabriel and Greta Conroy as Joyce wrote them in his short story The Dead, "a slim, growing girl" and a "stout, tallish young man".

With the utmost respect to the immensely talented duo, they're no longer that young. And, while anyone who saw Crotty as Mamie in The Field can understand why director Joe Dowling would want to work with her again, you've got to wonder why they didn't just cast actors more age appropriate?

"In 1903, even younger people seemed older, by virtue of their life experience," he tells me. "And they are both such wonderful character actors they can bring the subtext needed to these parts. There's no exact age given, but I don't think that we are casting that far over.

"I think they are believable as a couple who could have had a young family."

Sybil Thorndike once said to Uta Hagen, "You can only be too young for Joan", referring to the 19-year old saint Uta felt she was to old to play (she was 50). Just because an actor is the correct age does not mean they possess the right emotional maturity for a part. "I had an experience last week in Central Park when I saw Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline reading Romeo and Juliet. To watch Streep read Juliet at 62 made me realise that no actress near that character's age (13) could possibly do it justice.

"She had an understanding that no girl that age ever could, and armed with an ability to look back, she knew exactly what psychological process to follow," Dowling says

It's not the only part that the National Theatre has given to an actress a decade older than that stated in the text. Kelly Campbell a young-looking lass in her mid-30s is taking on Nora Clitheroe, a young girl of 22 in that theatre's revival of The Plough and the Stars (playing in the O'Reilly Hall).

While down the street, at The Gate, board member Ingrid Craigie is corseting up to play Mrs Arbuthnot, a contemporary of Lord Illingworth (45), played by Stephen Brennan (not).

At least ageism is one problem not afflicting Irish actors.

www.abbeytheatre.ie www.gatetheatre.ie/

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