Shadows (An Irish Trilogy) at The Barbican Pit
This is another one of those exercises where a producer has decided to dust down a long forgotten play in the hope that it's a lost masterpiece. The director, John Crowley, drew inspiration for this mounting of Shadows from the popularity of one-act plays at the Abbey Theatre at the turn of the century. Two of the plays that make up the trilogy emanate from that period and all of the them deal with a rural Ireland that is fast disappearing.
The common theme is death, particularly the way that the dead continue to maintain power over the living. All plays draw on two combined themes: the powerful hold that tradition and superstition have over these communities and the powerful hold that Catholicism maintains.
Synge's Riders to the Sea is possibly the best known of the plays (if only because Brecht liberally adapted it as the plot for Senora Carrar's Rifles). Set in a small village on the coast of Ireland it details the life (and more importantly death) of the fishermen. Maurya, well played by Stella McCusker, is a matriarch who loses her sons one after the other, but faces up to the inevitability of life going on. This is the sort of thing that Flann O Brien would send up something rotten and, in truth, there are times when (to modern ears) some of the dialogue verges on the ridiculous. However, the cast works hard and manages to convey some of the despair and doom within this world.
The second in the trilogy, The Shadow of the Glen, is a lighter piece. Dan (Lalor Roddy) feigns death in order to test his wife's (Mairead McKinley) fidelity. In another manifestation of cliché, she runs off with the silver-tongued stranger who calls at the door - ah, that old Oirish blarney.
The final play is somewhat different. Purgatory was written by W B Yeats in 1939 (just before his own death) in a style more similar to Samuel Beckett s - but without the humour. The most interesting of the three plays, it deals with two men, an old pedlar (the excellent Lalor Roddy again) and his son (Owen Sharpe) and the way that the sins of fathers are visited on the young. But, within 20 minutes, the script manages to include some ghosts, Catholic theology and political observation about the great families of Ireland.
Although the ensemble acting throughout the evening is of an extremely high standard, it must be said that these plays would have been better untouched. If you want to see real drama and proper storytelling in an Irish rural community go and see The Weir. For all the endeavours of this talented cast, these are just museum pieces.