The Unmanageable Sisters – Abbey Theatre – Review
Until 7 April
The location is Ballymun in 1974. Linda Lawless (Clare Monnelly) returns home to her flat to find the kitchen filled with boxes. It seems her mother Ger (Marion O’Dwyer) had an unexpected caller this morning. A young delivery man came to her door with some good news. Ger has won a million Green Shield stamps and with them she can get almost anything she wants. She intends to do up her flat with all the latest gadgets and styles. The news has spread fast to her family and friends, and she has called them all to her flat. She has to put the stamps into booklets in order to claim her prizes and her friends will help carry out the work. Little does she know that an unexpected guest will also arrive at her door.
This is a new piece by Deirdre Kinahan which is based on French Canadian playwright Michel Tremblay’s Les Belles-Sœurs, which was first performed in 1965 in Montreal. Kinahan is known for works such as Wild Sky (2016) and Halcyon Days (2012) but this is her first play on the main stage of the Abbey. The play has a large female ensemble cast with fifteen women on stage. The only man listed in the cast is Owen Roe, with the minor role of a voice from off stage. Graham McLaren directs, just to add some gender balance to proceedings!
The style of the play is rich and evocative of the 70s, with its blend of brash colours and fabrics. If you’re expecting flairs and bell bottoms, you won’t be disappointed. Music also plays a prominent role with the Nolan sisters, Stevie Wonder and more setting the scene. The play is set in a run down flat in Ballymun. The kitchen is the centre piece of the space but we also get a glimpse of the rest of the flat. Set designer Colin Richmond has indulged in all the ghastly glory of the 70s.
This is very much an ensemble performance, although each of the actors is allowed their moment in the spotlight with a series of soliloquies giving insights into the minds of the different characters. With such a large cast, we get a wide spectrum of life and social issues. Many of these are still relevant today, with the power of the church, abortion and alcoholism all featured. The perspectives vary with some young and older members of the group reflecting different attitudes.
At the centre of it all is Ger, played by Marion O’Dwyer, an actress that has long since paid her dues with a variety of smaller roles. Catherine Byrne does well with the interesting part of Angie Smith, a church goer with a hidden passion. Rynagh O’Grady plays the sad and sweet Dolly Snow, who dreams of having a man in her life. There are some memorable moments for each of the actors, and some impressive set pieces for the collective, like when they extol the virtues of Bingo!
Initially the humour is played quite broad and there is a fear that this is nothing more than a high class sitcom. The group dynamic and banter is enjoyable but never gets to grips with the characters. After the interval the play uses smaller groups and monologues to focus on the individuals. It gives us an insight into their hopes and dreams. There is social and political satire, some of it quite cutting, as we realise that despite their claims to be good catholic women, they all have their vices. It’s an enjoyable and fun production that tells us much about our present by looking at our collective past.
Rose O’Brien: Karen Ardiff
Gabby Joyce: Clare Barrett
Lilly de Courcey: Charlotte Bradley
Olive Doyle: Noelle Brown
Angie Smith: Catherine Byrne
Ruthie Barrett: Rachael Dowling
Marie Boyle: Tina Kellegher
Patsy Guerin: Lisa Lambe
Janet Mooney: Sarah Madigan
Linda Lawless: Clare Monnelly
Yvonne Long: Mary O’Driscoll
Ger Lawless: Marion O’Dwyer
Dolly Snow: Rynagh O’Grady
Lisa Pearse: Caoimhe O’Malley
Teresa Doyle: Catherine Walsh
Additional Voices by: Owen Roe
Writer: Michel Tremblay
A new version by: Deirdre Kinahan
Director: Graham McLaren
Set Designer: Colin Richmond
Costume Designer: Joan O’Clery
Lighting Designer: Sinéad McKenna
Sound Designer: Carl Kennedy
Hair and Make up: Val Sherlock
Voice Director: Andrea Ainsworth
Movement Coordinator: Eddie Kay
Associate Director: Sarah Baxter
Associate Dramaturg: Eleanor White
Casting: Maureen Hughes and Sarah Jones