Review: Portia Coughlan, Old Red Lion

“He’s closing in on me and I can hear his footfall crossing the worlds”

Quite how Marina Carr’s Portia Coughlan hasn’t been seen here since its 1996 debut seems scarcely credible, such is the power of Bronagh Logan’s revival for Aria Entertainment at the Old Red Lion. Caught in the hinterland between rural Irish family drama and something altogether more ghostly, it is a ferociously punchy play, akin to dropping rock after rock into the still water of the nearby bog, watching more and more ripples clash against each other and wrecking the calm.

Portia is turning 30 but she’s already hitting the whiskey before 10am, such is her disillusionment with life as wife to a dull husband and mother of three. She tries to find succour at the bottom of any number of bottles and in numerous affairs with the men of the village but she’s irrevocably haunted by the death of her twin brother some 15 years past and try as she might, she can’t resist the siren call that seems to be calling her to him. Continue reading “Review: Portia Coughlan, Old Red Lion”

Review: The Only True History of Lizzie Finn, Southwark Playhouse

“They must be her winter knickers…”

Perhaps better known as a novelist (A Long Long Way and The Secret Scripture have both been Booker-nominated), Sebastian Barry’s 1995 play The Only True History of Lizzie Finn receives its UK premiere here at the Southwark Playhouse in a production by award-winning director Blanche McIntyre. Having carved a niche for herself as the most celebrated dancer in Weston-Super-Mare, Lizzie Finn finds herself swept off her feet by an Irish soldier returning from the Boer War. Despite their completely different backgrounds, they return to their homeland anticipating married bliss but at a time when changes in the land laws are causing huge societal changes in Ireland, life is far from easy.    

The play is not without its challenges. Made up of sequences of short scenes, sometimes just a few lines long, the rhythm of the production is something that takes getting used to: James Perkins’ design of wide steps, whilst effectively evoking the seafront, doesn’t seem particularly well-suited to the format. But in the rather impressionistic approach by McIntyre, moments of visual grace emerge from these scenes, like embers spiralling out of the fire, flashing brightly and disappearing into the dark. I particularly loved the doubling of actors at the Castlemaine’s dinner party to create a witty echoing of an earlier scene.   Continue reading “Review: The Only True History of Lizzie Finn, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: The Playboy of the Western World, Old Vic

“A daring fellow is the jewel of the world”

Daring indeed for Robert Sheehan, known to some, if not me, for his part in Misfits, chose to make his professional stage debut at the Old Vic in this revival of The Playboy of the Western World. A 1907 play by Irish writer JM Synge which caused riots with its opening performance which seems rather hard to fathom now, but its Set on the West Coast of Ireland in the early 1900s, Christy Mahon is a mysterious stranger who arrives in a County Mayo pub and declares that he has killed his father. But the locals love the drama and the story-telling wit that he brings into their life and rather than condemning him, elevate him with hero-worship and he attracts the romantic attentions of many of a woman, including engaged barmaid Pegeen.

I have to say I was thoroughly underwhelmed by Sheehan’s Christy, lacking the real verve and charisma needed to convince as the absolute charmer he’s meant to be, a really odd piece of casting in that I just couldn’t see what it was that he was meant to be bringing to the show, it certainly wasn’t the gift of the gab. Ruth Negga fared better as Pegeen but also didn’t really possess the kind of mastery of the text that would have pulled me into this world a bit more. But then I don’t think it would have won me over in any case as this is a very broad, Oirish world in John Crowley’s production, with many performances from supporting characters on a knife edge of just too much. Continue reading “Review: The Playboy of the Western World, Old Vic”