Boasting one of the oldest pub theatres in London, the Old Red Lion in bustling and trendy Islington usually fills its small auditorium with an appreciative audience, and tonight was no exception. Set in rural Ireland at some time in the recent past, the play will have confirmed the city-dwelling audience’s worst fears about country life – violence, adultery, drunkenness, incest and cigarette-smoking are all openly on display. Nigel Farage would have been delighted to see real cigarettes being smoked on licensed premises, in contrast to the West End theatre where an actor playing Winston Churchill was forbidden to smoke a cigar!
The unusually large cast, with Susan Stanley in the title role, are uniformly good. The Irish accents are authentic, and the acerbic script is delivered with panache. There is what the BBC warns its viewers is “strong language”, but no worse than what you would be familiar with from Game of Thrones. A number of different elements feed into the structure of the play itself. There is the Gothic element of secret horrors and the supernatural, harking back to the Irish tradition of ghosts, banshees and so forth. There is an element of Greek tragedy, with the doomed heroine paying the price of ancestral sin. There is even an element of ‘stage’ Irishness in the drunkenness and loquacity of some of the characters.
What is the point of it all? Well, it is not a morality tale, although the slatternly housewife who will not look after the children or cook her husband’s dinner comes to a bad end. And it is certainly not a good advertisement for incest. Most to be savoured is the sharp and witty dialogue. A tendency at times to the portentous can be tolerated.