Which is the least of these crimes: a pretty girl marrying for money rather than love; a plain one pinning false fatherhood on a man to secure her future comfort; an old fool ignoring biological facts to claim a late and longed-for heir; or a young one living only for the good life, never mind the impact on others?
Such is the wonky moral compass at the heart of the Pirandello rarity Liolà, revived at the National Theatre this summer by former artistic director, Richard Eyre. And it's the lusty labourer of the play's title who ultimately emerges winner.
Fair to say that the charms of Liolà – both man and play – are slow to creep up on you in Tanya Ronder's new adaptation, which transports Pirandello's Sicily to the west coast of Ireland, adding a snatch of original songs by Orlando Gough and much energetic dancing to the strains of a live Balkan band. It takes a good half hour (and the play only runs to 100 minutes) to settle into Eyre's dramatic transitions and work out where we really are.
But one close-knit, cross-purposed rural community is much the same as another, it turns out. And as the quasi-Shakespearean plot takes root (very un-Pirandello!), Anthony Ward's set helps to ground us as firmly as the gnarly old tree in its midst. Grandmothers gossip; teenage girls twitter like the ever-present cicadas. Indeed, this is a play teeming with women of all shapes and sizes, brought to life with spirit and song by an impressive all-Irish cast.
Particular mention must go to the central sparring partners Mita and Tuzza (Lisa Dwyer Hogg and Jessica Regan) and Aisling O'Sullivan as the latter's long suffering mother. In this world, you're either a wife or a mother – or nothing, as one character puts it. "That's all there is." Only for Liola (an assured turn by Rory Keenan) the freedom to be "pure nature".
It doesn't sit well with modern sensibilities, but in the heat of an unexpected London summer, Pirandello's (and Eyre's) biggest success is in making us side even momentarily with the hero.
- Nancy Groves