The Finborough have billed their latest show as a "rediscovery" – and what a good one it proves to be. This being the first London production in 90 years of Saint John Ervine's tragedy, and yet Sam Yates’ exciting production assures us that the play's issues remain timeless.
The story focuses on the Rainey family in Belfast in 1911 - a city rife with political struggles and sectarianism. We follow John Rainey, a proud Protestant father who successfully unites Catholic and Protestant factory workers who are on strike together. However, trouble comes closer to home as his son falls for a Catholic girl and threatens to tear the family apart.
Daragh O'Malley plays John Rainey as a restrained giant of a man – physically present but emotionally fragile. He is a man of business and efficiency - evident in his abrupt “amen” at the dinner table. We’re intrigued too as he tenderly pats the head of his wife Fiona Victory - a cute insight into former affection between the pair.
The play boasts passionate acting from all in the tight ensemble of six, but particular accolades go to Christopher Brandon and Joel Ormsby as the two Rainey sons. Ormsby shows us punchy naivety in younger brother Tom, a lanky self proclaimed victim in the household. Older brother Hugh (Brandon) delivers an excellent portrayal of a young man swept up by love. We see every detail in the conflict between his love, his religion and family as he and Nora (Nora-Jane Noone) become our “star cross’d lovers” caught in a religious battle beyond their grasp.
Ervine’s text is simplistically poetic yet poignantly addresses the epic issues of relationships and politics with domestic ease. Richard Kent’s design of a run-down cottage makes the space feel intimate with the action and sound designer Alex Baranowski keeps us engaged with well crafted clips of John Rainey’s speeches alongside a vivid soundscape of the outside world.
Despite some uncertainty on lines, the rooted performances manage to take us on a grand journey of family dilemmas in just 80 minutes. This production simmers throughout and delivers a possibly predictable but powerful finale as John Rainey brings judgement day to his own doorstep.