Portia Coughlan**** (Old Red Lion Theatre)

Posted: May 2, 2015 in Theatre

Portia CoughlanThis review was originally written for The Public Reviews: http://www.thepublicreviews.com

Director Bronagh Lagan turns the small space at the Old Red Lion into a cauldron with her revival of Marina Carr’s harrowing drama, last seen in London at the Royal Court in 1996. Set in a small lakeside town in modern day rural Ireland, the play centres on a family that cannot escape from the its past, bound together by bonds that are malignant and incestuous. Portia has arrived at her 30th Birthday trapped in a loveless marriage to Raphael (Ben Mulhern). She is a neglectful mother who drinks heavily and partakes in casual liaisons with local men (Alan Devally and Conan Sweeny). Yet she is not yearning to escape, not even for a holiday; instead, she is drawn closer to the lake where her twin brother Gabriel had committed suicide 15 years earlier. The haunted look in Susan Stanley’s eyes is the key to her powerful performance as Portia; Gabriel was born clinging to her leg, Portia is told and, increasingly, she is coming to accept that nothing has changed. Strong cameo performances, particular from Veronica Quilligan and Karen Cogan as townswomen, show the stifling impact of the community which surrounds the family and Nik Corrall’s simple design – a table and chairs, with a small representation of the lake in the background – provides a suitably stark and claustrophobic setting for a drama in which affection is an outcast. When Portia dreams of her own suicide and funeral, we are shown the family gathering for her wake, still recriminatory more than remorseful. It is as if Portia believes that the removal of the cancer that is herself will still leave the disease raging and that reunion with her twin, who appears repeatedly in ghostly form, will be the only way in which she can find peace. In fierce performances by Susan Cummins and Anne Kent as Portia’s mother and paternal grandmother, we see the cross generational impact of bitterness and abuse. Her mother had been cold and unsympathetic, but she suffered from her weak husband (Christopher Dunne) having allowed his mother to dominate her household with cruelty. Her grandmother, still domineering, is now wheelchair-bound, foul-mouthed and even more malicious, but she herself had once been the victim of marital violence. These two characters justify Portia’s fears of causing damage to her own children. The lyricism in Carr’s writing and touches of quirky Irish humour do not detract from the core bleakness of her vision, which becomes wearing over the play’s 85-minute running time. Nonetheless, consistently fine acting from an outstanding company makes this a production to savour.

Performance date: 1 May 2015

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