THE ONLY TRUE HISTORY OF LIZZIE FINN
by Sebastian Barry.
Southwark Playhouse Shipwright Yard corner of Tooley St and Bermondsey St SE1 2TF To 21 July 2012.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Sat 3.15pm.
Runs 2hr 15min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7407 0234.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 14 July.
Entropy and vivacity balanced in finely-tuned drama.
It’s rare the qualities of novelist and playwright successfully combine. But Sebastian Barry’s 1995 play matches the concrete images of the stage with the subtle nuancing of fiction, certainly in Blanche McIntyre’s vivacious production for Jagged Fence.
In late Victorian times two Irish people meet in the English holiday resort of Weston-super-Mare by way of a hat bowled along in the wind. Lizzie returns it to owner Robert Gibson, with a hat-pin to hold it against the breeze. He’s idling there, she’s working hard as a risqué dancer. Away from home, blowing in the wind, she helps keep him together, though when they return, married, to his estate, Lizzie is the social outsider. Such things build the sense of transience which eventually extends to the definite-seeming title.
Time increases this sense, as Robert’s aristocratic mother moves into the mental absence of age before she and long-serving gardener Bartholomew drift off in that first symbol of transience, the sea. So, too, Lizzie’s dancing friend Jelly Jane, a Yorkshire exile and her firm companion at the opening, melts from the action.
Yet this evanescence happens around a sense of solidity caught in James Perkins’ tiered set, which is both abstract and suggestive of a pier, possibly symbolising too the structured, uncomfortable Anglo-Irish society through which Lizzie vivaciously tears. Scenes with a solid social basis are caught between expanses of passing time. And there’s the transience of show business; Lizzie’s dancing underwear, first seen in the vivid can-can, is misunderstood by a slow-witted servant, while Andrew Macklin reappears, each character having less of the skill that led the unshowy Birdy on stage with his Ohio bird impressions.
Nothing has any firm place, or context, as the fine cast make clear, led by Shereen Martin’s vivacious Lizzie, a force in herself who belongs nowhere, and Justin Avoth’s insecure Robert, who once had his place in society, before his mind was devastated by war in Africa – a subtly-drawn, gradually unfolding revelation of a performance.
These two cling to each other amid the wreckage, in a play and production that are anything but a wreck.
Robert Gibson: Justin Avoth.
Lucinda Gibson: Penelope Beaumont.
Jelly Jane/Lady Castlemaine: Lucy Black.
Tilly/Teresa: Karen Cogan.
Colonel Cody/Lord Castlemaine: Oliver J Hembrough.
Bartholomew Grady: Andrew Jarvis.
Birdy Doyle/Factotum/Rector: Andrew Macklin.
Lizzie Finn: Shereen Martin.
Director: Blanche McIntyre.
Designer: James Perkins.
Lighting: Gary Bowman.
Sound: George Dennis.
Movement: Joe Wild.
Assistant director: Natasha Jenkins.