More seasoned theatregoers will tell you you should never book a play on the strength of its star alone, but when that star is Academy Award winning actress Holly Hunter, star of one of my favourite films The Piano, then I had no hesitation in booking my ticket no matter what the play was. The play in question in By the Bog of Cats, a retelling of Euripides’ Medea by Marina Carr which blends aspects of ancient Greek myth with more modern Irish folklore creating a world of gypsies, witches and ghosts in which this story pays out.
In this adaptation, the Medea figure is represented by Irish tinker Hester Swain, a woman living on a rural Irish bog and facing the fact that everything in her life is slipping away: her man, her child, her home, her heritage. Her younger lover has left her in order to wed a woman who can bring him increased wealth and prestige, and he constantly threatens to part Hester from their child in order to raise the girl in his new, more privileged world. The play opens at dawn on the fateful wedding day, and we watch the lengths Hester goes to as she fights like a hellcat not to lose what belongs to her as horrific secrets from the past reveal themselves.
For me, Holly Hunter was note perfect in her performance: darkly humorous, spurned and sympathetic at times, yet as vicious as a wildcat as she is forced to be and at times utterly breathtaking in her desperation to reclaim the life she feels is hers by right. I loved being able to see such an accomplished film actress as Hunter up close and it was the power of her performance that pushed me through this production.
As it isn’t perfect: there is so much talking in here rather than doing, that it was hard to maintain full attention. After about an hour, all we had really ascertained was that we were in Ireland, in a bog full of weird characters. Even once the events of the wedding had started, the wordiness dominated so that scenes were mostly static rather than full of the energy that should have driven the play onwards. The rest of the company did well to keep up with Hunter’s epic performance, Sorcha Cusack’s kindly neighbour, Trevor Cooper’s blustering father of the young bride and Bríd Brennan’s portentous Catwoman.
It is hard to be fully objective about this play as so much of my pleasure was directly derived from watching Hunter submerge herself in this role and I have a bit of an aunt-crush on Sorcha Cusack too, so I was all too willing to overlook the weaknesses in the play and just enjoy the acting.