THE SANCTUARY LAMP
by Thomas Murphy.
Arcola Theatre 27 Arcola Street E8 2DJ To 3 April 2010.
Mon-Sat 8pm Mat 27 March 3pm.
Runs 2hr 10min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7503 1646.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 22 March.
A single red flame amid the darkness characters inhabit makes a resonant image.
In Thomas Murphy’s plays what you get is more than what you see. The meditative first act of this 1975 play, and even the more tonally varied second act, ask audiences to pick-up on mood and implication, evaluate half-hinted suggestions and piece together a pattern. It requires patience and trust – in the playwright, that he is offering something coherent as well as complex, and in oneself, to have the confidence to make sense of the various elements.
For Murphy seeks to explore humanity in a way that cannot be sequentially laid out. Apart from the priest, known only by his title, happy appointing Harry as caretaker so he can go home, the non-clerical characters each bring loss, sorrow and a sense of guilt into the encircling gloom of this church’s sanctuary.
They appear in different ways – middle-aged Harry, an ex-circus strongman down on his uppers seeking help, 16-year old Maudie ethereally dancing, and Harry’s former circus partner Francisco pursuing him – their anxieties contrasting the eternal flame of the sanctuary lamp itself, symbolising a God none recognises and Francisco denounces, ironically dependent upon humans to keep it alight.
Spread across the Arcola’s considerable width, set and lighting create a sense of things half-hidden. Made even more grey and dusty by Ben Ormerod’s lighting – shafts of which also pick-out individuals in sharp relief – Monica Frawley’s design incorporates the pulpit from which Francisco denounces Catholicism, while the red light burns above, pews and the Confessional which is upended to become an improvised overnight bed.
Declan Conlon’s Francisco, gulping bottles of communion wine, is unpredictable in his sudden moves and wily comments. And a potential sexual marauder; shy as she anyway is, Maudie has an instinctive caution around him, while he changes during the interval from hesitant arrival to delivering an aggressive anti-sermon from the pulpit.
Kate Brennan moves lightly when alone and has a distanced feel when explaining her past, while the author’s detailed, focused production is crowned with Robert O’Mahoney’s Harry, a strong man in principle as well as muscles, whose every moment, reflective or demonstrative, seems not merely acted but lived-through.
Harry: Robert O’Mahoney.
Monsignor: Bosco Hogan.
Maudie: Kate Brennan.
Francisco: Declan Conlon.
Director: Tom Murphy.
Designer/Costume: Monica Frawley.
Lighting: Ben Ormerod.
Sound/Composer: Ivan Birthistle, Vincent Doherty.
Fight director: Paul Burke.
Assistant director: Aoife Spillane Hinks.