Monday 23 July 2018

Review: Bringing Medea to the midlands

Theatre: By the Bog of the Cats, Abbey Theatre

By the Bog of the Cats
By the Bog of the Cats

Alan O'Riordan

Marina Carr's 1998 play, returning to the Abbey, brings Greece to the Irish midlands, transposing Euripides' Medea to the eponymous bog. Here, Hester Swane is the mother doomed to commit the ultimate crime, after being rejected by her lover, Carthage Kilbride, who has shirked her, a Traveller, for a farmer's daughter. We encounter Swane on the couple's wedding day as she is warned by the local seer, Cat Woman, that she must leave the bog or face her tragic end.

That we know where we are going doesn't matter - the journey is made gripping by Susan Lynch's powerful performance as Hester. Lynch has played unhinged characters before - with those dark, dancing eyes, those black curls and those ready-to-snarl lips it's easy to see why.

But Hester, dismissed as mad by the locals, is anything but. In Lynch's portrayal, she navigates a path of conviction and fiercely lucid self-knowledge that marks her apart. The wildness in her is that of someone pursued, someone constantly, and literally, looking over her shoulder as she strides the "cold white world" of the bog (rendered almost a lunar landscape in Monica Frawley's set) in her skirt and hobnail boots, her sexual power suggested in flashes of underwear and bare legs.

The world in which Hester sits so uneasily is vibrantly realised by Cartmell. After an uncertain start, the director's various stylistic elements, including nods to country and Irish music and dress, meld to create a grotesque, Gothic world that is by turns bleak and bleakly hilarious.

This is never more so than in the wedding scene where Marion O'Dwyer excels as the monstrous, self-pitying anti-Irish Mammy Mrs Kilbride. Such heightened scenes never feel rootless: their very absurdity derives from the meanness and jealousy that festers in small communities.

Neither does this world blunt Carr's excoriating critique of Irish snobbery, materialism and prejudice. Recognising a country like this, the audience is offered no catharsis.

Irish Independent

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