THEATRE REVIEW The Veil
NATIONAL THEATRE, LONDON he setting for Conor McPherson’s new play is a bankrupt and haunted estate in Ireland in 1822, a time of famine and extreme poverty. A defrocked priest and his companion, a philosopher addicted to laudanum, arrive to escort a 17-year-old girl to England so she can marry a rich marquis and pay off the family debts. Before they depart they indulge in a séance using the girl as a conduit. McPherson’s production, handsomely mounted and with a particularly fine performance by Peter McDonald, is always on the point of being interesting, but it never really gets started. The script lacks lucidity and for a ghost story, and especially one by the author of the commandingly ghostly The Weir, it isn’t disturbing and creepy enough.
MIxed Marriage / Drama at Inish
These two plays by two neglected Irish playwrights are being performed concurrently. St John Ervine’s tragedy Mixed Marriage, premiered at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, in 1911. Its subject is religious bigotry and rancour and it was very much a propaganda piece. Timely then, and timely now, it constantly hammers home its anti-sectarian message, and accuses the politicians, the press and the bosses of the Belfast shipyards of encouraging the sectarianism, knowing that the more divided the workforce the less power they will have. A Protestant man is willing to work with the Catholics if it means they will win the strike for better wages. But he will not countenance his eldest son marrying a Catholic. When the lovers refuse to part, he delib erately stirs up trouble. The result is a riot and the police are called in and the bullets start flying. The four acts are compressed into one act of 80 minutes and Sam Yates’s powerful production, strongly acted by a first-rate ensemble, plays the melodrama realistically and is totally involving.
Lennox Robinson’s Drama at Inish, which premiered at the Abbey in 1933, is a satire on actors and their audiences and is set in a small seaside town in southern Ireland. A visiting theatre company decides to give the community a repertoire of plays by Ibsen, Chekhov, Tolstoy and Strindberg. The intellectual dramas have an enormous impact on the unsophisticated audiences whose usual entertainment is the circus and variety. Soon they are emulating the characters on stage, and introspection, gloom and suicide become the norm. The comedy is spoiled by the over-acting of some of the townsfolk. Saved
Edward Bond these days is more likely to be staged in Europe than in Britain. Saved, which premiered at the Royal Court in 1965, is remembered for a baby in a pram being stoned to death by some youths. The Lord Chamberlain, in his role of stage censor, was appalled – not only by this notorious scene but also by the language and obscene actions throughout. He banned the play and the Royal Court had to turn itself into a club theatre in order to circumvent the ban. Bond blames the violence on capitalism and in his offputting introduction to the script explains that “the young people murder the baby in the park to regain their self-respect”. If you do not understand that (he says, raising hackles even more) you do not understand the times you live in. There are convincing performances in Sean Holmes’s Brechtian production by Lia Saville as the grating mother, Calum Callaghan as the brutal father, Susan Brown and Michael Feast as her dysfunctional parents, all indifferent to the fate of the baby, and by Morgan Williams as the weak youngster who is the only character to show any compassion.
66 Books BUSH THEATRE, LONDON The Bush Theatre’s move to a new building, a splendid conversion of the old Shepherds Bush library, is cause for celebration, congratulations, best wishes and not criticism. The inaugural production is responses by 66 contemporary playwrights to the 66 books of the King James Bible, a secular and daunting marathon lasting, with breaks, 24 hours. I saw only the first nine items and was very disappointed by the content.