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A CurtainUp London Review
Drama at Inish
Fidelis Morgan sets her production against a lovely painted backdrop of a seaside pier theatre with its twin domes. The opening scene sees the hustle bustle of coming and going to the music of an Irish jig in the lobby of the hotel. The hotel is owned by the Twohig family with Celia Imrie as thwarted in love, spinster, Miss Lizzie Twohig, the day to day manager. Her brother John Twohig (a rosy faced Jack Klaff) has a fondness for Irish whiskey and his wife Annie (Frances Low) has a penchant for the most gorgeous but expensive 1930s designer frocks. Annie and Jack’s son, Eddie (David Walshe) repeatedly proposes to the beautiful Christine Lambert (Hermione Gulliford), a regular guest at the hotel.
The central event in Drama at Inish subtitled Is Life Worth Living? is the arrival in town of theatrical impresario and actor Hector De La Mare (Rupert Frazer in cravat, caped cloak and claret velvet smoking jacket) and his lead actress, the very elegant Constance Constantia (Juliet Cadzow). Talking about their predecessors, Hector says, " They played to wretchedly small audiences". Hector and company are to bring their repertoire of the plays of 19th century Scandinavia and Russia, the great dramas of Ibsen, Chekhov and Strindberg to the audience of the town,. These two actors have plum parts with great theatricality and over the top gestures. They bitch as they name drop about Mrs Patrick Campbell and are treated by the hotel keepers as if they are royalty and it is all very funny.
Constance Constantia goes into a quick rehearsal for the assembled hotel staff and residents, whips a table cloth off an occasional table to wrap round her head and shoulders and goes into a scene from a melodrama about a mother and her lost child. This in turn causes a tearful reaction from the maid Helena (Ellie Turner), whose visit to Dublin to get her eyes tested ran into a four month stay . . . . and was reason enough for her to identify with a mother separated from her baby. So the play continues with each production by the repertory company having unforeseen consequences on the lives of the townsfolk as they identify with the predicament of Chekhov or Ibsen’s characters until both the police and a reporter start to investigate the strange happenings in Inish including an increased demand for rat poison.
Fidelis Morgan gets tip top performances from her well chosen cast. Celia Imrie drapes Miss Twohig in the doorway as she remembers her failed romance with Irish parliamentarian Peter Hurley (Oengus Mac Namara), who looks more like a weathered ex jockey than love’s young dream. I loved Juliet Cadzow’s timing and delivery, her magnificent sneers and disdainful looks. As David Walshe playing Eddie delivers his line about how misunderstood the young are and how damnable everything is, he pushes up his horn rimmed glasses on his nose as a dramatic full stop. When someone says to Miss Twohig, "It bloweth where it listeth!" she looks as baffled as we are but then quickly dissembles that she has actually understood the phrase.
The period detail is excellent with lovely costumes hats and jewellery. Constance drips with jet necklaces. There is a good choice of music between scenes and again after the interval to piano there is commotion and activity as if everyone is seen in a fast forward mode. We hear the sound of incessant seaside town rain which of course drives everyone into the theatre and the cast come in realistically soaked.
This is the best night I have had in the theatre for some time and deserves a far wider audience than the few sold out performances.
For all it's "rarity", Curtainup has caught productions of the play several times. For Elyse Sommer’s review of Is Life Worth Living – an Exaggeration in New York in 2009 go here. And for Lawrence Switzky’s short review at the Shaw Festival go here.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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