The Mai – Dublin Theatre Festival – Civic Theatre – Review by P. McGovern
Until Sept 29th
Marina Carr’s The Mai has lost none of its social resonance or theatrical impact in the almost 25 years since its first production. In fact, were it written today it might seem that many of its themes were drawn in because of their connection to contemporary or recent events. Divorce, emotional abuse, inter-racial marriage, even abortion are all stitched into the fabric of the play. However, far from seeming imposed, these subjects arise naturally from the lived experience of four generations of women. More accurately, perhaps, they arise from the stories of their lives as told by the women – not quite the same thing, as various characters edit or embroider their experiences of relationships with men. One character takes frequent flight into the realms of fantasy about her ancestry while another clings to an idealised version of the family life she struggles to create, only reluctantly conceding that in fact it is all “fucking Family Solidarity shite”.
Andrew Flynn’s luminous production is directed with unflinching clarity. Derbhle Crotty’s Mai swings between hope, despair and raw savage anger as she deals with the philandering and casual neglect of a callous husband. Caught up in his own need for excitement and sexual adventure, Aidan Redmond’s Robert is blinded to his responsibilities as husband and father. Crotty’s performance is up there with her best while Redmond impresses as her self-absorbed, detached, feckless other half, deluded by his aspiration to be a great composer. The final confrontation between the two, following one humiliation too many, is just one of the many scenes beautifully orchestrated by director and actors.
Stella McCusker’s Grandma Fraochlán is part Greek Chorus, making her acerbic observations on the actions and past history of others, and part comic, defusing the tension of the central narrative. As the Mai’s sister, Beck, Maeve Fitzgerald is convincingly offbeat, unconventional but warm-hearted. The part of the other sister, Connie, is somewhat underwritten, but Lesley Conroy does everything asked of her, resisting the temptation to do too much to bulk up the role. Empathy flows between the three sisters in scenes where pretence is discarded, honesty surfaces and shared memories bring a sense of solidarity and intimacy.
Another pair of sisters, aunts Julie (Marion O’Dwyer) and Agnes (Joan Sheehy) bring both humour and seriousness to the drama. O’Dwyer reflects the old judgemental Ireland, all rigid, self-righteous piety and belligerence, intolerant of dissent or independence. Sheehy’s Agnes is a perfect foil to Julie, warm-hearted and nuanced, trying to defuse her aggression and calm things down.
Rachel O’Byrne’s narrator, Millie, is the embodiment of “less is more”. She is still and controlled. There is no need for forced inflections or gestures; she just “tells the story”. She completes a great cast, one that, under Flynn’s direction, combines to do justice to Carr’s play, a work that entertains as it chills and never ceases to hold our interest. It continues its run at The Civic theatre Tallaght until September 29th, touring to Mermaid Arts Centre (October 2nd) and Town Hall Theatre Galway (October 4th – 6th). If it comes to a venue near you, don’t miss it.
Cast and Creative Team
Directed by Andrew Flynn
Cast includes: Leslie Conroy, Derbhle Crotty, Maeve FitzGerald, Stella McCusker, Rachel O’Byrne, Marion O’Dwyer, Aidan Redmond and Joan Sheehy
Set and Lighting Design: Ciaran Bagnall
Costume Design: Niamh Lunny
Music and Sound Design: Carl Kennedy