The town of Ballybeg has had the O’Donnell family at its forefront for generations. The family had a legal dynasty and their house was the centre of the community. This generation has lost its grandeur though, and their only son Casimir is a failed solicitor now working in a sausage factory in Germany. Out of the four siblings, two have escaped their brute of a father and are now live in foreign countries. The two that remain continue to live in the big house and Judith has taken the responsibility of looking after her father who has suffered a stroke. The family rarely meets up but on the eve of the wedding of the youngest daughter Claire they all return to the old family house to relive past memories and meet ghosts they thought they’d escaped.
The play is an exploration of family dynamics and also the big house in a small rural community in Donegal. The family in question has suffered for many years at the hands of the dominant father and they bear the scars of his harsh treatment. While there is no mention of physical abuse, the mental anguish is evident in all the characters. The dominance of the Father has faded due to his ill health but he still remains an over powering force on the family.
The introduction of an American Professor, Tom Hoffnung is an interesting device that allows further insights into the family. He is there to study their history as he is writing a book on Roman Catholic families who were members of the aristocracy. He takes notes on many of their stories and gradually starts to see them for what they really are, and that much of what he is told has little bearing on reality.
The play is set in the front room and lawn outside the house and the open plan set allows the cast to move easily between the two spaces. The set is spacious and creates the two dynamics of the front room and also the open garden with ease. The costumes capture the era of the late 70’s and early 80’s with many flared trousers and other staples of the time.
The cast are quite evenly matched and work well with each other but Cathy Belton stands out as the daughter who accepted the role of nurse and gave up her life to look after her father. The part of Casimir is one of the more peculiar ones as he is quite eccentric and Tadhg Murphy adds depth to this unusual specimen. The play was written in 1979 and many of revelations of the second half of the play may have seemed shocking at the time, no longer carry the same degree of outrage. It is an interesting insight into life in Ireland in that era and an eloquent production of one of Friel’s finest plays.
Aristocrats by Brian Friel Runs at the Abbey Theatre until August 2nd.
Live from 18 June – 2 August
Previews: 18 – 23 June
on the Abbey stage
Times: Mon – Sat 7.30pm, Sat matinee 2pm
Tickets: €13 – €45 / Conc. €13 – €25
Sign language interpreted performance: Thurs 24 July, 7.30pm
Audio- described and captioned performance: Sat 26 July, 2pm
Cathy Belton – Judith
Bosco Hogan – Uncle George
Philip Judge – Tom Hoffnung
John Kavanagh – Father
Keith McErlean – Eamon
Ruth McGill – Anna’s Voice
Jane McGrath – Claire
Tadhg Murphy – Casimir
Rory Nolan – Willie Diver
Rebecca O’Mara – Alice
Patrick Mason – Director
Francis O’Connor – Set Designer
Sinéad McKenna – Lighting Designer
Catherine Fay – Costume Designer
Denis Clohessy – Composer and Sound Designer
Maisie Lee – Assistant Director