by Brian Friel.
Tobacco Factory Theatre Raleigh Road Southville BS3 1TF To 3 October 2015.
Runs 2hr 20min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 30 September.
With this play, Bristol leads the way.
This is the second time Andrew Hilton has directed Brian Friel’s 1977 play in Bristol – productions staged within several hundred yards of each other – so it’s fitting his should be the final mainland Friel, the playwright dying a day before the run’s end.
Hilton’s Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory operation has occasionally admitted non-Shakespeare interlopers, including Anton Chekhov’s Cherry Orchard in 2012. Friel’s sympathy with Chekhov, his ability to measure up to the Russian’s dramatic wisdom and to use restraint as a form of power, make his loss like that of “many thousands” recorded by William Wordsworth at the death of a public figure: “A Power is passing from the earth To breathless Nature’s dark abyss”, and such as people noted after Chekhov’s death.
Dramatic sophistication leading with increasing force to the human truth of a situation is evident in Hilton’s revival, helped by a number of energetic performances in the action’s ‘present tense’ events, offsetting a prevailing tone of melancholy supplied by the hindsight awareness of Sir. The energy comes particularly from the more mature actors, with the confidence and technical experience to participate vigorously in family events with no concern over proximity to the audience seated all round.
Sir is a controlling presence to whom some characters, at times, relate. Wandering round the auditorium, sitting in the scene, admonishing and controlling as events unfold, shaping the impending tragic moment, noted Bristol actor Christopher Bianchi holds an authoritative bound ledger; he is bound by it himself, made thereby a source of authority to other – at times insisting, at others conciliatory.
Though Euripides is Friel’s acknowledged model, Chekhovian moments recur – three sisters together watching the view, a military band playing – though near the start rather than the end, as in Three Sisters.
In addition, the role of Sir recalls the argumentative insistence and split level of awareness in Luigi Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author. There are fine performances from Simon Dutton as the returning Commander whose life will be destroyed, Joe Hall as a priest whose cheer covers vacillating emptiness and Nina Logue as the reflective Helen.
Sir: Christopher Bianchi.
Father Tom Carty: Joe Hall.
Anna Butler: Rose O’Loughlin.
Charlie Donnelly: Eoin Slattery.
Tina Butler: Martha Seignior.
Helen Kelly: Nina Logue.
Miriam Donnelly: Hayley Doherty.
Commandant Frank Butler: Simon Armstrong.
Ben Butler: Craig Fuller.
Director: Andrew Hilton.
Designer/Costume: Angela Davies.
Lighting: Matthew Graham.
Sound: Keegan Curran.
Assistant director: Nel Crouch.