Wednesday 16 October 2019

Revival of early Marina Carr play is full of depth and passion

  • The Mai Civic Theatre, Tallaght Tours until Oct 6

Katy Hayes

The Mai premiered on the Peacock stage in 1994 and though that production was excellent, the play felt too large for the cramped space. Decadent Theatre, under the direction of Andrew Flynn, have given it a bang-up revival, with an expansive set by Ciaran Bagnall, all diagonals and aspirational curves in beige and polished oak. The Mai, a school principal, built the fancy house overlooking a Midlands lake to lure her wandering husband Robert back to the family nest.

This story of four generations told through the female characters was very successful and established Marina Carr as a vital voice in Irish playwriting. However, it was not particularly influential and didn't prompt a succession of copycat plays with strong female characters; this is part of the reason why it still feels so innovative and fresh today.

The story is narrated by daughter Millie (Rachel O'Byrne) who first appears as a 16-year-old, though it becomes clear in time that she is relating the story from an older perspective. Robert (Aidan Redmond) returns after an absence of five years and the delighted Mai takes him back into her bed and home. But he is a restless spirit, and tying him down is not an easy feat.

The Mai has an extended family of voluble women that Robert finds oppressive. Stella McCusker is a charming 100-year-old Grandma Fraochlán, capturing the essential romanticism of the old woman who would've sent all her children to hell "for one more night with the nine-fingered fisherman". She brings the fisherman's oar with her wherever she goes. Marion O'Dwyer and Joan Sheehy as the two Connemara aunts bring a bristling comic energy to the stage but they too have their tragedy. Wise-cracking Beck (Maeve Fitzgerald) and domesticated Connie (Lesley Conroy) are the two sisters who have spent their lives in the shadow of Mai's academic and personal brilliance.

Derbhle Crotty portrayed Millie in the original production, and now returns as The Mai. She captures the woman's unbearable humiliation at her husband's unfaithfulness. The husband/wife row at the close of Act 2 is a real dramatic high-point during which Bagnall's set becomes a combat arena as the two actors stalk each other. The Mai's rage reverberates around her lovely house.

This is ultimately a story about the potency of heterosexual love, a power that can be as destructive as it is thrilling. Full of depth and passion, The Mai is one of the best Irish plays of the contemporary period.

A classic in need of reinvention

Frank Pig Says Hello, Gaiety Theatre National tour , until Nov 9

Co-Motion Media presents this revival of its 1992 breakout production of Patrick McCabe's version of his hit novel The Butcher Boy. At the time, the device of having only two actors on the stage, one of them playing the young Francie Brady and the other playing the older Francie and the entire population of the town, was a brilliant innovation. The show premièred during the fringe and was lured on to the Gate stage with much fanfare.

Now, 26 years later, these staging innovations have lost their sparkle, as they have been so thoroughly absorbed by the industry. As is pointed out by director Joe O'Byrne in his programme note, many of the themes - mental illness, suicide, clerical and institutional abuse - were under the radar in 1992, but have had much excavation since. The subject matter has lost its groundbreaking quality.

Darragh Byrne as the young Francie and John D Ruddy as older Frank and the whole town, are both gifted performers, and carry the 90-minute show with aplomb.

But the simplicity of the staging is crying out for elements of more recent innovations in theatre production, including in audio design and video design, which would have reinvented the show for a new generation. The audience of 2018 is not the audience of 1992.

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