Set in 1892, Sebastian Barry’s Lizzie Finn is the story of an Irish dance hall girl who leaves the bright lights of Weston-super-Mare and returns to her homeland a lady and a wife. Traumatised by the loss of his three brothers during the Boer War and enlivened by his love for Lizzie, her new husband soon begins to question the local political and social dogma, before sensationally challenging the assumptions of land-owning life within his Anglo-Irish milieu.
Lizzie Finn, has a pretty heavy agenda, aiming to address questions of politics, sexual equality, class and religion; but at two and a half hours long, there is more than enough space to adequately explore these themes. Unfortunately, time is not always used economically in this production, which frequently loses its momentum as well as its audience. Dramatic climaxes feel hurriedly dismissed, whereas moments inconsequential to the plot seem to go on forever. This is not helped by frequent scene changes, leaving the impression of a poorly-adapted novel and confusing the focus of the plot. At times, the actors lack cohesion, highlighting the artifice of the stage and sapping energy from a production that feels under-rehearsed; some mediocre articulation, coupled with a confusing variance in Irish accents, obfuscates the action and leaves the viewer cold.
An apathy towards the plot is further magnified by Lizzie herself who - given that she is the play’s purported heroine - seems to spend an awful lot of time acting the idealised foil for her husband’s self-discoveries. Implausibly sanguine in the face of his last-minute memo that she will henceforth be subject to the parochial mores of the manor (which, as a footnote, her savings will be rescuing), her repetitive ebullience grates to the point that you start to wonder why you care about her history at all. This is partly a result of the actress’s delivery, and partly the tired essence of the story; in sum, that a working-class girl marries into an upper class, disapproving family, yet gradually wins those idealistically ‘good’ characters over with her empathic nature and kind-heartedness for all.
There is too much going on in this production which, at its conclusion, feels as bloated as the heroine’s drowned mother-in-law. It is saved by a magnificent set and some entertaining supporting performances from Karen Cogan as Teresa and Andrew Jarvis as Bartholomew.