LAND OF HEART’S DESIRE
by W B Yeats.
Pentameters Theatre 28 Heath Street NW3 6TE (entrance in Oriel Place) To 4 October 2015.
Tue-Sat 8pm Sun 5pm.
Runs 1hr No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7435 3648.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 20 September.
Rare outing for Yeats’ early drama of the spirit world.
Poet, playwright, mystic – and Irish Senator – William Butler Yeats had his first professional production at London’s Avenue Theatre (now the Playhouse) in 1894, when The Land of Heart’s Desire opened, met Oscar Wilde’s approval and ran six weeks.
Now it’s revived in Hampstead, where Pentameters boss Léonie Scott-Matthews is developing an Irish programme in her 47-year old pub theatre, much of it – like this – directed by John Dunne. Yeats was fascinated by Irish mythology and folk-legend, while in some sense the piece might be an ancestor of Conor McPherson’s 1997 play The Weir, where regulars in an Irish country pub counter the realities of daily life with tales of mysterious happenings.
Here the setting is domestic, the home of the Bruin family, parents Bridget and Maurteen entertaining the local priest, with no more than a glass of wine being taken. But the tales of unexplained happenings have a darker aspect, signalled by their son Shawn seated alone and silent at the side with his cup, dashing out unexplained at one point and clearly at odds with his parents.
The reason soon appears; his young wife Mary, disapproved of by Bridget particularly. She enters and crosses the stage singing a sad folksong as the action stops – a strange moment, marking her with a sensitivity to a more imaginative world than the one the older people experience, one they expect the endurance of daily life and the future demands of motherhood to squeeze out of her.
Yet her song seems to summon an elegant young lady from the natural world outside, whom the older Bruins welcome as a gentlewoman, till her horror at a crucifix on the wall and attacks on Christianity shock Father Hart.
But her interest is in the rejected Mary, who collapses, dead, or, as earlier talk of spirits having a pre-life on earth suggests, moves to a world without the harsh duties and rejection she had been facing.
There’s room for the production to tighten its pace and clarify detail, but it understands, vitally, the spirit of the piece, in a revival whose rarity alone provides considerable value.
Bridget: Margaret Moore.
Maurteen: Nik Wood Jones.
Father Hart: Bernard O’Sullivan.
Shawn: Sam Raffal.
Mary: Jennifer Anne.
Faery Child: Ash Reddington.
Director: John Dunne.