Tuesday 12 December 2017

Theatre: Double the delight

SUBTLE: Clare Barrett is brilliant in both ‘Happiness’ and in ‘The Middle of the Fields’. Photo: Barry Cronin
SUBTLE: Clare Barrett is brilliant in both ‘Happiness’ and in ‘The Middle of the Fields’. Photo: Barry Cronin

Emer O'Kelly

Deirdre Kinahan has done a remarkably true job in adapting two of Mary Lavin's short stories for the theatre, something that is not always achieved in bringing page to stage. The stories are Happiness and In the Middle of the Fields, and they're presented as a double bill under the former title at Bewley's Lunchtime Café theatre in Dublin.

The overweening sense is of Lavin's mastery of words and lyrical style (a style which her more honest critics admit was sometimes over-written) and Kinahan preserves the tranquil sense of language being the author's paramount passion. But having the words brought to life (magnificently, as it happens) by a cast also emphasises that Lavin's work has dated very badly indeed in the centenary year of her birth.

Unspoken, even unrecognised, erotic stirrings are sacrificed in both stories to the brutalities and drudgeries of rural life, even in the comparatively privileged middle classes in a way that seems ludicrous to the modern ear. While director Padraig McIntyre preserves a sympathetic and tremulous mood, he makes no effort to set the plays in their period, which ultimately detracts from dramatic verity.

In both stories, the past is a buried paradise, maybe of only slightly elusive imagination, but equally likely to be a cruelly shimmering mirage. Whichever is the case, it is unable to compete with reality. And faced with reality, there is nothing for Lavin's characters but emotional emptiness comprised of imperfectly buried fear and resentment as a young woman tries to believe that she "staggered back" to life after her widowhood, defeating those who wanted her "cross" always to be a visible burden, and an old man actually does move on to match outside expectation by ensuring his second wife "fills the cradle" annually.

The adaptation of Happiness is mainly a monologue piece for Clare Barrett, and she wrings infinite variety from her subtle, intelligent performance in that and in In the Middle of the Fields. She is matched superbly in both pieces by Steve Blount as the tortured Carmody in the latter and Mike Sheehan elegantly understated and varied in both pieces.

There are no design or lighting credits, but both are excellent.

****

WHEN the young company Fast Intent staged Anouilh's The Lark 18 months ago, they seemed not to have got to grips at all with the political realities of the author's uneasy position in post Second World War France. He had been suspected of Nazi sympathies and the 1953 play was a less than subtle piece of nationalistic reparation rather than an intellectual investigation of royalism and the delusions of Joan of Arc, something of which Fast Intent seemed totally unaware. This time around, again playing in the Boys' School space at Smock Alley, the company has staged Macbeth and it's a much more successful production.

Played with measured clarity and surviving the editing necessary for a one hour 45 minute duration, this Macbeth is absorbing and fiery, although it could do with some variety in the ages of the cast.

However, Gerard Adlum gives us a Macbeth of somewhat limited intelligence, dazzled by the promises of the weird sisters and relishing the trappings of his stolen powers until the inevitable moment of retribution at the hands of Macduff (Finbarr Doyle, after a weak start, is very fine in the scene at the English court where he denounces Malcolm, son of the murdered Duncan for his abandonment of his legitimate claim to the throne).

Jennifer Laverty is a convincing Lady Macbeth, conniving and terrified by turns, although she is too much in this world in the sleepwalking scene, and she needs to control her tendency to mark every phrase with an arm gesture.

For the rest, there's a truly heart-wrenching Lady Macduff from Claire Jenkins and a good Ross from Katie McCann. Conor Marren is Banquo and Jamie Hallahan is Malcolm.

But Patrick Doyle falls into the 'what on earth?' department in his totally undifferentiated dual roles of the Porter and Seyton, in both of which he seems to be trying to play a Bond villain.

Full marks for the fight sequence under Keith Thompson's direction, which also makes imaginative use of the theatre space and there's good design by Cait Corkery and atmospheric lighting by Eoghan Carrick, which aims to re-produce the sense of an Elizabethan playhouse.

Irish Independent

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