by St John Ervine.
Finborough Theatre above The Finborough Arms 118 Finborough Road SW10 9ED To 14 June 2014.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat & Sun 3pm.
Runs 2hr 5min One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 847 1652. (24hr No booking fees).
Review: Timothy Ramsden 1 June.
Rural Irish poverty clearly if tentatively presented.
There’s no reason a playwright shouldn’t write a play set a third of a century ago, even if that was before they were born. During the First World War Harold Brighouse did it with Hobson’s Choice, and St John Ervine with his 1915 Abbey Theatre drama John Ferguson, both set in the 1880s.
Yet, whereas the time distance in Brighouse sets-off the dynamic between the generations, in this revival it merely creates reminders of dramas, and melodramas, past. There is the expropriating landlord, lustfully bent on gaining possession of his tenant’s desirable daughter. She has to decide whether to save her family home by marrying the young man she cannot stand.
There’s the criminal element, with a murder. And the impact of chance; as in Romeo and Juliet a postal problem means money for the mortgage doesn’t arrive in time. All or any of which might have contributed to a plot-driven, emotion-rousing drama anytime the previous century.
But Ervine was looking for something more. His title character is physically weakened and cannot work alongside others. By his fireside, reading the Bible, he clings to belief in God’s goodness and that all will eventually be well.
Around him, the evidence is otherwise; the close of Emma Faulkner’s revival leaves two written objects contrasting each other; John’s Bible and the letter which eventually arrives, enclosing the money, useless on the bare table.
James Turner’s set creates a confined, dark room – the fireplace is suggested only as a shape amid the general black paint. That’s fine, but too often a similar dark uniformity attaches to the playing. It’s apt generally to the dark situation, but there is a tendency to play each character’s main emotion with little to enrich it or suggest individual minds at work.
This approach works best with Paul Lloyd’s landlord Witherow, with his quietly determined manner. Zoe Rainey works well to show the effort behind young Hannah’s veering between duty and inclination. But it’s really only Veronica Quilligan as her mother, John’s wife Sarah, who provides dramatic fire when required, showing the agony and anger of love and adversity.
Sarah Ferguson: Veronica Quilligan.
John Ferguson: Ciaran McIntyre.
Hannah Ferguson: Zoe Rainey.
James Caesar: Paul Reid.
Henry Witherow/Sergeant Kernaghan: Paul Lloyd.
Clutie John: David Walshe.
Andrew Ferguson: Alan Turkington.
Director: Emma Faulkner.
Designer: James Turner.
Lighting: Elliot Griggs.
Composer: Angus MacRae.