Wednesday 21 November 2018

Emotions run high in a tragedy of property and family desire under the elms

Desire Under The Elms
Mock Alley Theatre

Sophie Gorman

Deemed scandalous and charged with obscenity when it emerged in 1924, Eugene O'Neill's lesser-produced drama is actually a simple Greek tragedy of family and property.

A flinty patriarch takes on a young wife to the outrage of his three sons, who know their claim on the family stronghold has instantly been annulled. But nothing is straightforward in theatre and reactions have fatal consequences.

In this most powerful Corn Exchange production, the stage is strewn with grit and earth, to one side a bockety kitchen table with mismatched chairs, along the back wall broken boards form an uneven fence with weeds growing through.

The sky backdrop is distinctly Irish; dark, ominous clouds shot through with silver. The setting has not explicitly been moved from America's New England to the North of Ireland but the accents are planted somewhere deep in the Tyrone fields.

Two gnarled brothers discuss how 'purdy' the setting sun is on their farm.

Their younger half-brother arrives and we know he is different. He silently announces he has at least an air of manners by placing a napkin on his knees for the dinner he has cooked for the brutes. He is Eben, a handsome dreamer and something of a moralist.

When the men learn that their twice-widowed septuagenarian father, Ephraim Cabot, has taken a new 35-year-old wife, Abbie, the two older brothers hightail it to California and the promise of gold.

But Eben is not willing to give up without a fight. And when Eben and Abbie first set eyes on each other, the world shifts on its axis.

Directed by Annie Ryan, this high-calibre production entraps you in its idiosyncratic world. Mel Mercier has created an atmospheric soundscape of a land sighing and the persuasive performances are heightened, the emotions emphasised to create a sense of the real and the unreal meeting.

Fionn Walton captures the naive passionate idealism of Eben, and Janet Moran's Abbie convinces us that she alone is rooted in reason.

But it is Lalor Roddy's Ephraim that resounds, this portrait of a patriarch masterful. This is proper theatre.

Irish Independent

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