Tuesday, December 04, 2007

"Molly Sweeney" - December 2007

I was aware that the previous run of the show in 2005 by the Citizens Theatre Company had been very well received, but it still required a little persuasion to get me along, even with its new National Theatre of Scotland 'badge'. A show about the consequences when a woman who lost her sight shortly after birth attempts to have it restored just seemed so serious. Maybe I misread the marketing, or didn't pay enough attention to the reviews, but I was completely unprepared for the humour in this piece. Of course, Brian Friel's play is immensely emotional but it also has a light-hearted core that prevents the emotion overwhelming.

While there is no doubting the quality of the writing, the real joy from the piece comes from the performances. Cara Kelly as Molly, Michael Glenn Murphy as her husband Frank and Oengus MacNamara as her eye specialist, Mr Rice, absolutely commanded the Citizens Circle Studio. With seats on all four sides we've seen many performers find it difficult to play to all sections of the audience, but there were no such problems tonight. Not only do Kelly, Murphy and MacNamara constantly play to all sides, they play to every single audience member individually, making regular direct eye contact throughout. It's stunningly effective at drawing the audience in and I don't think I've ever seen the space handled so naturally and with such confidence - their moments of interaction with the audience are beautifully dealt with.

Combined they are quite possibly the most impressive cast we've come across this year. Kelly makes Molly utterly charming and we are quickly emotionally invested in the character, while Murphy succeeds in making Frank sufficiently good hearted and sympathetic that we can't really hold him accountable for what follows. MacNamara manages to portray Rice's flaws and complexity to great effect, absolving him from much of the blame. And therein lies the tragedy of the piece.

Add some wonderful lighting, smart direction and stimulating set design and you really have a production that is a bit special, and despite the subject matter it's one of the most enjoyable nights I've spent in the theatre this year.

Molly Sweeney continues at the Citizens until 8th December and then finishes its tour at the Traverse in Edinburgh 12th to 15th December.

Image by Richard Campbell, used with permission.