Posts Tagged ‘St John Ervine’

Mixed Marriage, another play by St John Ervine (he appears to have beatified himself!), was one of my favourite revivals in 2011, also here at the Finborough (where else?). Though not as good a play, this second look at a clearly neglected playwright is well worth it; well staged and beautifully performed.

John Ferguson is about to lose his farm and home when local baddie Henry Witherow forecloses on his mortgage. His daughter offers to marry local shop owner James Caesar (any significance of the name is lost on me) in exchange for him clearing the debt (after John’s exiled brother fails to bail him out). Hannah’s true feelings are clear but her parents and brother Andrew have mixed views. When she changes her mind, she sets her parents against each other but when Witherow assaults her, everyone is united.

Unlike Mixed Marriage, its a bit slow, particularly in the first half, with a lot of the story happening off-stage, making the on-stage events too much of a commentary (this was the case in the earlier play, but a soundscape brought the external in). That said, it’s a proper play which isn’t predictable and leaves you satisfied at the end.

Whatever you think of the play, you can’t fault the committed and passionate performances – not a weak link amongst them – and the delicate traverse staging which enhances the intensity of the emotional experiences being presented.

Another find by the Finborough, and a fine production

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Another neglected gem at the Finborough – this time a passionate 100 year-old play by St John Ervine about the sectarian divide in Northern Ireland.

Influential orange man John Rainey is persuaded by son Hugh and his catholic friend Michael to speak in encouragement of unity against employers exploiting the sectarian divide, but when he overhears his son expressing his love and intention to marry catholic Nora, he turns and reverts to anti-catholic rhetoric. This deepens the divide and starts riots in which the family is caught up.

The personal and political are played out together very successfully in Sam Yates’ excellent production. The writing is a bit idealistic, which makes it occasionally preachy, but it certainly packs a punch in its 80 minute running time. Though the political landscape may seem to have changed, personal attitudes like John’s clearly still exist, which gives the play a contemporary resonance. Richard Kent has created a very evocative one-room set with equally evocative period costumes. Aklex Baranowski’s terrific sound design effectively conjours up the off-stage riots towards the end of the play.

It’s beautifully played by a faultless cast. I don’t know how many of them have Northern Irish blood (if any) but the accents seemed to me to be spot on. Daragh O’Malley has huge presence and charisma as John, balanced by his more tolerant wife, beautifully played by Fiona Victory. Christopher Brandon’s Hugh and Damien Hannaway’s Michael are every bit as passionate as their roles require.  Joel Ormsby as younger brother Tom and Nora-Jane Noone as, well, Nora, complete the fine cast.

Yet another find and another deeply rewarding visit to the Finborough. If ever a theatre punched above its weight, this one certainly does.


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