Review: Portia Coughlan, Old Red Lion

“He’s closing in on me and I can hear his footfall crossing the worlds”

Quite how Marina Carr’s Portia Coughlan hasn’t been seen here since its 1996 debut seems scarcely credible, such is the power of Bronagh Logan’s revival for Aria Entertainment at the Old Red Lion. Caught in the hinterland between rural Irish family drama and something altogether more ghostly, it is a ferociously punchy play, akin to dropping rock after rock into the still water of the nearby bog, watching more and more ripples clash against each other and wrecking the calm.

Portia is turning 30 but she’s already hitting the whiskey before 10am, such is her disillusionment with life as wife to a dull husband and mother of three. She tries to find succour at the bottom of any number of bottles and in numerous affairs with the men of the village but she’s irrevocably haunted by the death of her twin brother some 15 years past and try as she might, she can’t resist the siren call that seems to be calling her to him. Continue reading “Review: Portia Coughlan, Old Red Lion”

Review: John Ferguson, Finborough Theatre

“Do you not like the whistle Mrs Ferguson…?”

There is often the sense that selective quoting from the Bible can assert pretty much any viewpoint and so it turns out in St John Ervine’s John Ferguson, receiving its first airing in the UK for nearly 100 years with this production at the Finborough Theatre, directed by Emma Faulkner. Set in the 1880s in the unforgiving Ulster farmland of County Down, it centres on the Ferguson family and the trials they are forced to ensure when threatened with foreclosure by their grasping neighbour and tenant-holder, the dastardly Henry Witherow.

Ageing paterfamilias John is unwell and thus unable to work the land that gives them their living, finding succour instead from burying his head in a well-worn copy of the Bible. And in a reversal of roles, his son Andrew is induced to return from his training to join the ministry in order to run the farm. But he is ill-suited to the job at hand, they’re behind with payments and the promised cheque from John’s brother in America has failed to materialise. The only collateral they seem to possess comes in the form of daughter Hannah’s hand.  Continue reading “Review: John Ferguson, Finborough Theatre”

Review: Dangerous Lady, Theatre Royal Stratford East

“We could get the girls round for a game of kerplunk”

I’m a big fan of crime fiction but somehow Martina Cole has passed me by: none of my book-sharing buddies ever press her work into my hands, the TV adaptations didn’t grab me and the previous two Cole stage adaptations failed to tempt me to Theatre Royal Stratford East. But TRSE are clearly happy with how they went and it seems to be turning into an annual event there, so this year one can take in a version of her first novel, Dangerous Lady.

Cole seems to occupy similar ground, if not subject matter, to the Jilly Coopers and Jackie Collins of the world, the story has an epic sweep over several decades but an intimate focus in the struggles and self-empowerment of a ballsy lady. Here it is Maura Ryan, born into a family of gangsters but determined to do the right thing by avoiding the family business. An ill-advised liaison with a cop ends up in pregnancy but he swiftly departs and the subsequent back alley abortion leaves her broken-hearted, infertile and hardened to the world. She then joins her brothers and together they come to conquer gangland, but at considerable sacrifice. Continue reading “Review: Dangerous Lady, Theatre Royal Stratford East”

Review: Rosmersholm, Almeida Theatre

Rosmersholm is one of Ibsen’s lesser performed plays and is presented at the Almeida Theatre in a new version here by Mike Poulton. It is also notable for marking the return to the stage of the wonderful Helen McCrory, an Islington local, and one of my favourite actresses.

Rosmer, a former pastor, is oppressed by a whole series of factors: his conservative ancestry, guilt over his wife’s suicide and loss of religious faith. But, aided by his companion, Rebecca West, he believes he can set out on a new path of missionary idealism. This, however, turns out to be a fantasy as he is not strong in his new path, society turns against him and his new democratic ideals, his closeness to West makes them become a subject of scandal, and as Rebecca has her own demons too, sets them on a path where the weight of the past threatens everything.

Continue reading “Review: Rosmersholm, Almeida Theatre”