Review - Theatre: Sive at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin
Sabine Dargent's set design is initially a little overwhelming. The Glavins' Kerry farmhouse looks like it's been hit by a bomb, the stone walls writhing upward in melted twisted shapes. But it becomes an increasingly fitting backdrop, for this is a family that has unleashed the dogs of war.
Mena Glavin (Derbhle Crotty) seethes with hatred for her aged mother-in-law Nanna (Brid Ní Neachtain) who has hated her since her son Mike (Barry Barnes) first brought her over the threshold. Mena's also replete with lively contempt for Mike, her dithering "man of straw."
The place is a "hatchery of sin" and the eggs start to crack with a vengeance when local matchmaker Thomasheen (Simon O'Gorman) informs Mena that Seán Dóta (Daniel Reardon) a prosperous but septuagenarian farmer will pay her and Mike £200 for the hand of Mike's illegitimate niece Sive (Róisin O'Neill).
From the opening salvo between between Mena and Nanna, Conall Morrison's production, scrupulously faithful to John B Keane's powerful folk-drama, flows with the swift sinuous rhythm of the text. Without a wasted word, the characters twist and turn their way toward a dénouement resounding to the ancient echo of Greek tragedy. The smallest things have an ominous significance. But it's the language, pungent, acidly earthy, ostentatious, smattered with gaelic vernacular and laced with curses thick as earthworms, that grips the attention.
The devil usually has all the best tunes and it's Mena and Thomasheen, who himself will profit from the sale of Sive, whose self-justifying tirades are the most compelling. There's a "curse of evil on this house" and both these actors seem to take on its whole accursed genius loci, Thomasheen working himself into near paroxysms of twisted lyricism in his obsession with keeping the plan to marry Sive off to Seán on course.
Maybe you have to be a father to really appreciate Róisin O'Neill's moving performance as Sive, but I hope not. This innocent schoolgirl isn't lyrical in her own defence but the half-moan half-sob she gives in the face of her family's determination to sell her to a man old enough to be her grandfather speaks volumes. I'm not sure how much engineering's involved, but Sive and her wizened beau are also exactly the same height, which adds another frisson of repulsiveness to the enforced match.
Ian Lloyd Anderson also tenders a deeply moving performance as Sive's grief-stricken true love at the play's end. Not forgetting the travelling tinker-poets Pats (Frank O'Sullivan) and Carthalawn (Muiris Crowley).