This Beautiful Village – Abbey Theatre – Review
by Frank L.
2 – 14 September 2019
Images by Pat Redmond
The title is satirical as the village under the microscope is a housing estate in the environs of the Dublin suburb of Stillorgan. It is not some cute hamlet nestling in a rural idyll as the title might lead you to suspect. However, it is a place which boasts a committed group of residents who have formed themselves into an association to advance and protect the immediate area around their homes. The play opens to the sound of “Little Boxes”, a song from the sixties which explores the uniformity of suburbia. In the intervening years the issues concerning society have changed greatly in some respects. However, both the song and the play are based on the assumption of a property-owning society. Tierney-Keogh investigates the issues that are of concern to these six people living in 2019 in a similar collection of “little boxes”.
The set consists of the gable end walls of houses on an estate. These walls by means of lighting then become the interior walls of the living space in Liz’s house. As a set it creates the right ambience.
First up is Liz (Ruth Bradley), a married lesbian, who has called the impromptu meeting which is taking place in her house. Then arrives Maggie (Pom Boyd), the most mature of the company, who is settled in her ways; she is naturally suspicious of outsiders whom she does not know. There is Philip, a married guy, who is nosy, but does not like confrontations – anything for a quiet life. Added to the mix is Dara (Michael Ford-FitzGerald) also happily married and dressed in a hip style. His main reason for attending the meetings appears to be to show off his skills in the kitchen! Grace (Bethan Mary-James) is a nurse, single and black, who works in a public hospital. Finally there is Paul (Aidan McArdle) who is married and self-employed but whose business affairs are in a down turn. He is a man who is not comfortable with political correctness and the changing roles of the sexes in society.
The reason for the meeting is a piece of graffiti which is sexist in nature, that was scrawled on a wall in the vicinity. It relates to one Jessica, the identity of whom is also unknown. While there is just about agreement that the words are derogatory there is no agreement as to what to do about it. The resultant arguments range over misogyny, political correctness, racism and much else besides. So the play develops a Bernard Shaw like quality.
The comic element is never far away even though the topics which they discuss are anything but. Dara and his obsession with home cooking is the source of many of the laughs. As is Maggie with her smug, confident complacency. In juxtaposition to that tone was a fine contemplative soliloquy by Grace impressively delivered by Mary-James which was calm but impassioned about the invisible and not so invisible things that were wrong in society as she perceived them. The speech was met encouragingly by a round of applause from the audience.
The six actors interact with each other in various sequences and combinations. The play creates many challenges for the actors which they met with confidence. Well into the second half there is a moment of violence which seemed quite out of place with the domestic setting and out of character with the tone of the play. It also added little to the overall substance. Of more importance, however, was Grace’s soliloquy which gave substance to the piece.
Here is a play which addresses the concerns of suburban dwellers in Ireland who make up a sizeable proportion of the population. It is a valuable contribution to an understanding of their concerns and what happens inside their ‘little boxes’!
Cast & Crew –
Maggie: Pom Boyd
Liz: Ruth Bradley
Dara: Michael Ford-FitzGerald
Philip: Damian Kearney
Grace: Bethan Mary-James
Paul: Aidan McArdle
Writer: Lisa Tierney-Keogh
Director: David Horan
Set Designer: Ciaran Bagnall
Costume Designer: Katie Davenport
Lighting Designer: Sarah Jane Shiels
Composer & Sound Designer: Carl Kennedy
Voice Director: Andrea Ainsworth
Dramaturg: Louise Stephens
Casting: Amy Rowan
Rehearsal Photography: Ste Murray