The Country Girls – Abbey Theatre – Review
Until April 6th
Kate (Grace Collender) has just received some great news. She is to receive a scholarship to one of the best schools in Ireland due to her academic excellence. She arrives home to hear something quite shocking though, as her mother (Lisa Lambe) has died in a boating accident. She is left in the hands of her alcoholic father who seems to have little interest in her upbringing. She leaves for her new school along with her best friend Bridget “Baba” Brennan (Lola Petticrew). It is a strict school run by nuns and she performs well. Baba has less interest in her education though and leads Kate on quite a different path.
The Country Girls is Edna O’Brien’s first novel and was published in 1960. It was quite a shocking piece in its time as it depicted young unmarried women with an interest in sex. It was banned by the censor and O’Brien’s parish priest burned copies of the book! Even viewed from a modern perspective the main characters have a wild streak and some incidents are quite surprising. It all happens off stage though and much is done by suggestion. Edna O’Brien has adapted this new version for the stage.
This work is directed by Graham McLaren, who previously directed work such as The Unmanageable Sisters and Ulysses. He has a light touch and this is an extremely stylish production. There are some interesting ideas with impressive movement by the ensemble cast. Another inventive touch is that all the items of furniture are lowered onto the stage by wires. They often hang above the happenings on stage which can prove quite distracting but generally it is a novel idea. There are also some introspective moments of song, with Lisa Lambe returning to sing as the ghostly apparition of Kate’s mother.
There are eleven in the cast with most playing multiple roles. We meet a variety of characters as we travel with the young women from their time in school to living in digs in Dublin. We meet the nuns in their school, along with the eccentric couple who run their lodging house and the various men in their lives. There are some tender and romantic scenes as Kate chases a man who is not available.
The play is about 100 minutes long and does not have an interval, which is unusual for the Abbey. It does help to build the tension of the piece and keep you involved in the story. Younger audience members may struggle with the piece as it depicts a very different Ireland from the one around us today, but it is an impressive production that creates a vision of everyday life in Ireland from our not too distant past.
Kate: Grace Collender
Hickey: Muiris Crowley
Molly / Cynthia / Dolly: Megan Cusack
Finn: Aron Hegarty
Malachi / Harry: Aidan Kelly
Lil: Lisa Lambe
Miss Moriarty / Sister Mary: Catriona Loughlin
Mr Gentleman: Steven McCarthy
Mr Brennan / Gustav / Reg: Bill Murphy
Martha / Sister Immaculata / Joanna: Mary O’Driscoll
Baba: Lola Petticrew
Written & Adapted by: Edna O’Brien
Directed by: Graham McLaren
Movement Director: Vicki Manderson
Set & Costume Design: Francis O’Connor
Lighting Design: Sinéad Wallace
Composer: Ray Harman
Sound Design: Matt Padden
Voice Director: Andrea Ainsworth
Production Dramaturg: Eleanor White
Casting: Maureen Hughes and Sarah Jones