Only Our Own** (Arts Theatre, 10 January 2014)

Posted: January 13, 2014 in Theatre

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews:

The Irish War of Independence, fought between 1919 and 1921, led to the formation of an independent Ireland and fundamental change for the Irish people, but the stories of English residents in the country at that time have been little told. Ann Henning Jocelyn’s new drama centres on the descendants of English aristocratic landowners, displaced by the War and examines the social and religious divisions continuing in Ireland up to the present day.  Christopher Faulds’ impressionist design of a lakeside Irish fishing lodge looks curious at first sight, but it works rather well when warmly lit. The lodge is the refuge that the family found in Connemara after the burning of their ancestral Tipperary home and it is the setting for the entire play. Played in nine shortish scenes, the story spans the period from 1989 to 2013 and shows how succeeding generations of the family struggle to preserve their own identity whilst integrating into an Irish Catholic community which remains passively hostile towards Protestants of English descent. Lady Eliza is the family’s last survivor of the War and she recounts, in the play’s best written passages, the horrors that she witnessed. Her mission is to ensure that her granddaughter, Titania, is able to appreciate her heritage and pass her knowledge on to her own children. These are Chekhovian characters, except seen after their revolution rather than before. Elaine Montgomerie makes a stately Lady Eliza, movingly reflecting on her childhood traumas. Alex Gilbert has the difficult task of portraying Titania both as a frumpy, rebellious teenager and then as a sophisticated career woman and wife. She is not entirely convincing as either and it does not serve the play well that her character remains so thoroughly unlikeable throughout. The intervening generation is represented by Lady Eliza’s daughter Meg and her husband Andrew, parents of Titania. Much of the play consists of one of these characters informing the other of events from the distant or recent past of which both must be already aware. The information is being recited solely for the benefit of the audience, which contributes to making some of their dialogue sound very stilted, thereby bringing occasional ripples of laughter to an evening which contains little intended humour. It is unfortunate that so much of this story is told rather than enacted and that several potentially interesting characters are only talked about and never seen. Meg and Andrew hold the stage for large chunks of the play, but, as their function is made to be primarily that of narrators, their characters remain under-developed. Despite the valiant efforts of Maev Alexander and Cornelius Garrett to bring them to life, they remain a desperately uninteresting couple and it becomes very difficult to empathise with them. Often the play seems to wander some distance from its central themes of heritage and progression and when, in the final scene, it reconnects strongly with them, it produces an ending which feels contrived, almost as if it had been tagged on as an afterthought. In many ways the links which Only Our Own makes between historical events and the modern world are fascinating, but the play and this production of it do not do full justice to the writer’s core ideas.

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