Hilary Fannin’s new play, Famished Castle, directed by Lynn Parker, opened at the Pavilion Theatre Dun Laoghaire last night. It presents a snapshot of boom-before-the-bust Ireland of ten years ago but is above all a tale of two couples, an exploration of entangled relationships and lives trapped in frustration and longing. The writing is often sharp and the plot never less than interesting. However, some awkwardly-written timeline changes disturb the flow of the narrative and there is some confusion about motivation – particularly in relation to Nat, the son who went to Berlin and could have, should have…
The play is not well served by poor vocal projection at crucial times, Vinnie McCabe being the sole exception. The irony is that it is in the most intimate, revelatory moments, where every word counts, that voices are most likely to be dropped. Poor voice projection is not unique to this production. Are actors, spoiled by TV and film studio technology, losing the vital skill of projecting adequately in a theatre – even one as compact as The Pavilion? Audience members from the fourth and fifth row with whom I checked had difficulty hearing some key speeches. Whatever the reason, it is unacceptable and presumably this will improve during the course of the run.
McCabe’s vulgar property builder-developer would be in his element in a hospitality tent at the Galway Races. He alternately repels us with his sexist and general coarseness and moves us with his helplessness and vulnerability as he slips into dementia. It is a fine, deeply-internalised performance. As his wife, Trixie, taking refuge in alcohol to numb the pain of the loss of her child, her husband’s infidelity and her collapsing health, Eleanor Methven is a good foil. In her last scene – sotto voce but crystal clear unlike her earlier monologue at the table – she is deeply affecting. The writing of the relationship between Raymond Scannell’s Nat and Aislin McGuckin’s Angie lacks sufficient motivational explanation, leaving actors and audience alike with too many gaps to fill.
There is much to admire in this production: some sharply written, bitter-sweet dialogue, fine acting from all four players, economical stage setting and excellent sound and lighting. With a little rewriting, the play could be immeasurably improved. It is not far short of first class. It continues at the Pavilion Theatre Dun Laoghaire until Saturday May 23rd.