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Achill and Arran distilled: Riders to the Sea

23 November 2014

Riders to the Sea

by John Millington Synge

COG Artspace

Fractured Lines

Review by Mark Aspen

To distil Achill and Arran, all those misty windswept islands in Ireland’s far west, and to concentrate that spirit into a small theatre above a pub in Hoxton is a remarkable feat. But this is just what Fractured Lines, a thrusting new stage company, has done in its current production of Synge’s fateful tragedy, Riders to the Sea, running until the end of November at COG ARTSpace.

Director, Neil Sheppeck has achieved an intense piece of theatrical poetry, full of atmosphere. Authenticity is conveyed in the simplest ways: a table, a box, a piece of rope, a lump of dough.  An actress playing a concertina, in a plaintive and slightly discordant tone, sets the mood.  The lighting, by Daniel Cornwell, bathes the scene in that metallic light that is reflected by the sea in remote places.

The fear and foreboding felt by the two sisters, Nora and Cathleen, as they await news of their brother Michael, who is missing at sea, is portrayed with trembling veracity by Muirenna Bird and Jenny Fennessy. When a bundle of his clothes arrives at the house, their sense of helplessness is palpable.

Grandfather, father and four brothers before Michael had been lost to the sea, from which they drew the family’s livelihood. The youngest brother Bartley now remains. Benjamin Coulter, as Bartley, conveyed his sense of unease as his mother pleads with him not to take a horse to market across Galway Bay.

Of an exceptionally strong cast, perhaps the most powerful was Fiona Victory playing Maurya, the mother. Her acting suffused her whole being, eyes and hands and voice. Trance-like she tells of her premonition of a vision of eight horsemen riding into the sea.

The ineffable power of the sea brings its own relentless tragedy and we see Bartley’s drowned body laid out, flowing over the small kitchen table.   In Fiona Victory’s hands Maurya’s desolation hits us like an Atlantic breaker and her grief stricken words, “They’re all gone” are hyperthermic in their effect.

Nevertheless, the final feeling is one of release as Maurya’s fears are dreadfully resolved and herein lies the beauty of the piece and its closing poetry.

*****

© Mark Aspen

Nov 2014

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