The Country Girls by Edna O’Brien, adapted by the author.
Gaiety Theatre, South King Street, Dublin 2. To 2 June 2012.
28 May – 2 June 2012. Mat Sat. 3pm.
Runs 2 hr One interval.
TICKETS: 0818 719388 www.gaietytheatre.ie
Review: Michael Paye 29 May 2012.
Some hilarious and farcical moments cannot disguise a problematic lack of direction.
Edna O’Brien is rightly considered one of Ireland’s finest contemporary writers, and The Country Girls trilogy is a firm favourite across the world. However, translating this into a theatre production has not gone to plan.
Director Mikel Murfi appears to have gone for a mixture of surrealism, farce and realism; unfortunately, such a combination simply destabilises the play. For a bargain 8 euro you can buy the combination program/script, and immediately you notice its disclaimer: “The play is not intended to be performed realistically.” Even with this in mind, the sheer incongruity of the text itself coupled with some melodramatic epiphanies make the whole performance seem awkward.
The actual setting is genuinely confusing, the focal point being a massive expressionistic assault of paint on the walls, which simply does not work. Early on in the play, when Kate’s mother is hanging up clothes on a line, the line itself is held by a cast member. The mother’s poor performance only adds to the sheer oddity of this spectacle, and no script disclaimer can excuse that.
Holly Browne’s performance of Kate is suitably earnest, while Caoimhe O’Malley gives a fine performance as Baba, capturing her playful, shocking nature and flirtatious survival-instincts. Mr Gentleman gets across his sycophantic perversion well, which is as much thanks to a decent overall performance as good writing for his character by O’Brien. However, he is French in the book, but in the play his accent is unidentifiable as such. Indeed, Joanna’s German accent is barely visible, while Mrs Burns’ Dublin accent is not credible. Kate’s Father, played wonderfully by Michael Power, is arguably a saving grace, as his physically imposing frame dominates the stage, while his portrayal is suitably remorse-inducing.
The one thing that the play captures very well is that underneath the sex and maturity themes, this is a story about friendship. Kate and Baba’s escape from their homes, then on to the convent, then Dublin, ties them together, and the two actresses maintain a good chemistry together on stage.
One of the major issues is the poetic references which are laid on thickly throughout. Because the production does not seem to know whether it is farce or realism, but dallies between the two, with little success, Kate’s various sudden T. S. Eliot and James Joyce references are rather awkward, neither demonstrating the innocence which they seem to underline in the novel nor Kate’s desire to be seen as too deep for simple country or convent life.
Holly Browne: Kate.
Caoimhe O’Malley: Baba.
Bob Kelly: Mr. Gentleman.
Rachael Dowling: Mother, various.
Michael Power: Father, various.
Georgina Miller: Various.
Charlie Bonner: Various.
Aileen Mythen: Various.
Michael Power: Various.
Director: Mikel Murfi.
Set Designer: Ben Hennessey.
Light Designer: Conleth White.