Talking Movies

August 23, 2015

By the Bog of Cats

Selina Cartmell directs Marina Carr’s relocation of Medea to the Midlands for its first revival since its 1998 Abbey premiere.

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We meet Hester Swane (Susan Lynch) in what seems a disused quarry next the titular bog, dragging a dead black swan, a prophetic bird from which the blind Catwoman (Brid Ni Neachtain) divines Hester’s death by sundown. This emphasises the earlier omen of Hester meeting the Ghost Fancier (David Shannon) in the morning fog, who apologised for being early… Hester’s day was already set to be bad as Carthage Kilbride (Barry John O’Connor), the father of her child Josie (Eve Maher/Elodie Devins), is marrying the much younger Caroline Cassidy (Rachel O’Byrne), the daughter of big farmer Xavier Cassidy (Peter Gowen). The vinegary Mrs Kilbride (Marion O’Dwyer) is delighted at this advantageous match, that will ‘knock some semblance of legitimacy’ into her granddaughter. But Hester is determined not to go quietly, despite her neighbour Monica Murray (Jane Brennan) begging Hester to keep her signed promise to leave the bog for the new house in the town that Xavier has bought her…

Monica Frawley’s set is impressively stark, the craggy rocks being relieved only by a tent in the background for the raucous wedding sequence. This channels the intensity of Greek tragedy which Carr smashes into Irish archetypes. Catwoman the Tiresian blind seer mingles with an Irish mammy from Hell in Mrs Kilbride, Hester’s Tinker blood is the barbarian origins that Greeks despise, while Creon banishing Medea from Corinth is Xavier moving Hester off the bog; except that Xavier is also a monstrous patriarch out of John McGahern’s work. Irish country and western music floats over proceedings, even inflecting the cowboy-outfitted drawling Ghost Fancier, but Kilian Waters’ AV design is oddly under-used, indeed largely abandoned after a prologue in which Hester’s sunken caravan is investigated by a character who disappears out of sight but whose point-of-view is relayed on a big screen. This play is about passion, mostly the thirst for revenge, as conveyed by Lynch in a performance of snarling intensity.

But, as Euripides’ 1960s translator Philip Vellacott noted, Medea presents “an oppressed victim claiming sympathy” until “the punishment shows itself twice as wicked as the crime, sympathy changes sides; and we are left with only one comfort, that since the worst has been reached, there can be no worse thing to follow.” After the interval Carr unduly prolongs Hester’s embittered rampage, as we’ve lost sympathy by dint of her past before she proves childishly and murderously unwilling to distinguish between death and exile. Hester’s most affecting scenes come before the interval: lamenting her betrayal by Carthage, making fun of Mrs Kilbride with her daughter Josie. O’Dwyer is hilariously spiteful before the interval as Mrs Kilbride, but raises the roof as a Freudian nightmare against the double-act of Ni Neachtain’s Catwoman and Des Nealon’s Fr Willow at the memorable wedding bacchanalia. O’Byrne evinces a quiet sadness, while special mention must go to the young actress playing Josie with bright, phenomenal confidence.

By the Bog of Cats is a production of admirable commitment which loses its way latterly because of its repetitious focus on Hester but lingers long in the mind.

3.5/5

By the Bog of Cats continues its run at the Abbey until September 12th.

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