Pale Sister – Gate Theatre – Review
Until 9th Nov, 2019
Photo: Bríd O’Donovan.
This play is based on the Greek tragedy ‘Antigone’ by Sophocles. It is told from the perspective of Ismene, sister of Antigone. Their twin brothers, Eteocles and Polyneices, went to war with each other and both have died in battle. The King, Creon, has ordered that Polyneices will not receive a proper burial due to his crimes. Instead, his body will be left to be picked apart by the vultures. Antigone cannot bear to see her brother treated in this manner and goes to see the King to argue for him. This sets in motion a sequence of events that will lead to much bloodshed.
This is a new play written by Colm Tóibín, who is known as a novelist for work such as The Blackwater Lightship (1999) and The Master (2004), which was nominated for the Booker Prize. While he is less well known as a playwright, his work ‘The Testament of Mary’ was produced by Druid in the Dublin Theatre Festival in 2011 starring Marie Mullen. It was later produced in 2013 with Fiona Shaw playing the part of Mary. This new play has echoes of this work, giving the perspective of a woman who was previously marginalized, her thoughts unheard.
This is a joint production between the Gate theatre and Audible. It is unusual for Audible to be involved in an Irish theatre production, but it is probably due to the involvement of Tóibín. I’m sure we can expect the work to appear on Audible in some format in the not too distant future!
The stage design by Jamie Vartan also plays an important part, with curved stone walls and plinths lying around the stage. The lighting design (by James F. Ingalls) alters the mood and brings out colours in the stones, with yellows, browns and blues all visible under the changing lights.
This one-person play is performed by Lisa Dwan who takes on the role of Ismene. While she is not directly involved in any of the major action of the plot, her role as an observer allows her to tell the story of her sister and her terrible fate. The plot does not allow for any moments of humour. It may have helped to vary the mood and allow the audience to see the characters in a more rounded light. This would, however, have altered the intensity of the piece which was not the writer’s intention. The tone is quite unrelenting as we watch Dwan mourn her family. The story brings strong emotions to the fore, and Dwan does a great job of embodying the part. It is an hour-long performance and she never lets the audience slip away for a second.
Cast: Lisa Dwan
Director – Carey Perloff
Set & Costume Designer – Jamie Vartan
Lighting Designer – James F. Ingalls
Sound Designer- Sinéad Diskin
Associate Director – Davey Kelleher