When ambitious James Whelan (Mark Hesketh) moves to faraway
Dublin to take up a job that will greatly enhance his prospects, his pretty
sweetheart Nan (Aislish Symons) must decide whether he is worth waiting for. Unsure of what she
truly wants, and not short of other suitors, Nan rebels
against James’s plans for their future and refuses to commit herself.
When we next come across the young people, several years have
passed. James’s drive and hard work have paid off and he is now a successful
entrepreneur, but Nan’s choices have not stood her in such good stead and the
pair now meet on very different terms.
Teresa Deevy’s play, written in 1937 but enjoying its UK
premiere now, bowls along at an engaging pace, but is let down in places by
Gavin McAlinden’s safe and static directing style. This isn’t helped any by
Katie Lias’s unimaginative design, which does very little to summon the
atmosphere of 1930s small town Ireland.
Hesketh doesn’t achieve the tortured intensity necessary to
justify James’s prideful, contradictory outbursts, but nuanced supporting
performances from Siobhán McSweeney and Conor Short
provide real insight into the pernicious effects of pride and ambition on old
Deevy wrote six plays for the Abbey Theatre, Dublin in the
1930s before submitting Wife to James Whelan to the
theatre’s conservative new management in 1937. It was rejected and Deevy made
to understand that her status as a married woman effectively prevented any
future plays of hers being produced there. This rather old-fashioned and
occasionally heavy-handed production doesn’t allow Deevy’s writing to shine in
the way that it might, but it’s a worthy monument to a talented writer who was
sadly side-lined by the politics of the day.