January 19, 2003: Synge, In the Shadow of the Glen and The Tinker’s Wedding

Pentameters Theatre, above the Three Horseshoes Pub, 28 Heath Street, Hampstead

Pentameters has been around for a long time. As the program announces, it is celebrating its thirty-fifth anniversary. I’ve never been to this tiny theatre (I estimate a capacity of fewer than fifty) with its equally tiny stage (perhaps 20 x 15), with no backstage and only a smattering of lights. In circumstances like this, the optimistic pilgrim to the fringe venue hopes for something incandescent that will triumph over such gross appar­ent limitations. In this case, the pilgrim ends up disappointed.

The founder, in 1985, of Hibernia Theatre is Denis Quilligan, who prod­uces (I infer), directs, and acts in Irish plays performed by his company. The idea of doing two short plays by Synge is a viable one, but, setting aside the pick-me-up mise en scène, which is describable as rudimentary at best, the acting is fair, for the most part, but the direction is unimaginative and inadequate. The most talent on the stage is seen in a young actress, a Dubliner named Catriona Lynch, who graduated from the London Drama School last July and who has some promise. She played Nora Burke in Shadow and Sara Casey in Tinker’s Wedding. More experienced is Tom Begley, who did reasonably well as the Tramp in Shadow and the tinker Michael Byrne. Roz McCutcheon was a full voiced, very “full figured” Mary Byrne in the Wedding. Quilligan himself played the old man Dan Burke in Shadow and the Priest (he has no other name) in the Wedding. Where the two younger actors who appeared in both plays made some interesting attempts to vary their two characters, Quilligan’s two old men were almost indistinguishable except for their costume. Quilligan has an irritating way of speaking out all of a sudden at full volume, in a decibel range too great for the intimate theatrical circumstances, seemingly unable to distinguish vehemence from volume. If he can’t make more of a distinc­tion between the two old men in these plays, one can’t expect better results when he comes to direct the other actors. The most noteworthy fault in his direction was that he failed to help his actors, especially Catriona Lynch, find the depths and complexities discoverable in the two young women she is playing. The next most noteworthy fault is that he is not good at moving his actors around the stage; at one point they were all standing in a straight line, and in several other instances they were unsure how to justify a position or a movement.

Enough of that. One is bound to discover a case of mediocre theatre in the London fringe. The plays themselves are good enough to hold atten­tion, and the Irish accents sound authentic enough to pass for real. What manages to come through sufficiently clearly is Synge’s signature brand of sardonic humor. Aside from sympathizing with the plight of young women trapped in loveless marriages or circumstances of economic hard­ship, he has nothing good to say about Irish society. And yet he has an eye for vitality wherever he finds it — again, for the most part, in young women, or women not so young, who have the courage of their own desires if not their own convictions. One can see in Nora Burke the frustra­tion that eventually is realized in the character of Pegeen Mike in Playboy, and in the character of Mary Byrne one may see the beginnings of the Widow Quin in that same play. These are relatively slight plays, but they are characteristic, nonetheless, of Synge. They deserve a deeper, more well-founded production than they have been given here. I hope Catriona Lynch is lucky enough to find a director who will show her how to bring out her considerable promise.




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An American Playgoer in London by Joseph Donohue is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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