Tricycle Theatre, Kilburn
Kilburn is the Irish sector of London, but the Tricycle’s audiences are unpredictably mixed. At this performance of John Keane’s “tragedy” the audience consisted mainly of a busload of prep school girls and another of senior citizens, both of which groups laughed audibly at what seemed to us the wrong places, in this grim story of young love gone catastrophically awry; but they gasped audibly and appreciably in many of the right places. Sive is the name of the young illegitimate orphan girl who lives with her vacillating uncle (her dead mother’s brother) and his harridan wife, along with her sympathetic but ineffectual grandmother. A local matchmaker hopes to pair her up with a superannuated dairy farmer, despite her love for a local lad, Liam. On the eve of the wedding Liam sends her a letter inviting her to run away with him, but the letter is intercepted by the matchmaker and burned. In desperation, Sive lets herself out of the window of her bedroom, runs off, and drowns herself in the bog.
The action proceeds very efficiently; Keane is nothing if not business-like in the conduct of his drama, and the tendency toward melodrama is evident. Characters are played at a white-hot temperature, especially those of the harridan foster-mother of Sive, wife of Mike Glavin (Marion O’Dwyer, who over-plays by at least a third) and the matchmaker, Thomasheen Seán Rua (played at this performance by J. D. Kelleher for the ailing Simon O’Gorman). Catherine Walker as Sive (only a year out of drama school, according to reviews pasted in the entryway) is extremely good as the faltering, tortured sixteen-year-old school girl trapped in a loveless family dominated by her ugly, wicked stepmother. The fact of the matter is that, unsubtle as it is, and not as good as The Field, Kean’s play about property in rural Ireland which we saw in Dublin in 1996, Sive holds the stage well and, somewhat in the manner of Synge, presents a very un-lovely picture of rural Ireland in (we think) the 1930s, recovering from a world-wide depression and looking to a future economic betterment. It is a tale of greed and vindictiveness, small-mindedness and ineffectuality, and the victimization of the young by these forces, so inimical to life and so powerfully beyond their control.