Sunday, 24 May 2009
PERFORMANCE REVIEW: Famine
Old Red Lion Theatre
John Dunne’s production endeavours to unravel the story behind the Great Hunger, as the Irish Potato Famine of the late 1840s is more commonly termed. A one-act version of Famine, entitled Gorta (from the Irish for hunger) was originally performed in London’s Elephant Theatre in 1982. Here it returns in fuller form to the Old Red Lion Theatre.
Amidst references to the god-fearing populace, frustrated and rebellious peasants and absentee landlords, Dunne paints a relatively realistic picture of rural life in 19th Century Ireland. A single family, already torn apart by romantic and religious ideals, find their problems further compounded when the potato blight strikes the village. In microcosmic effect, as the family’s personal malaise steadily worsens, the famine leads to extensive physical disintegration and suffering of greater society.
In many ways, the central message is strong and persuasive: the widespread chaos incited by the potato blight caused people to question their ideals and even religious beliefs and catastrophically brought the country to its knees. This concept has the potential to create a thought-provoking production evoking the true gravity of Ireland’s tragic plight in which millions lost their lives.
Although the production has great potential, it still seems somewhat unpolished. For one, the excessive number of scenes overcomplicates the story, detracting from very good pieces of writing in places and some strong performances. Russell Kennedy deserves particular mention for his role as the tenacious Steward. He delivers a measured performance, capably gauging the transition between emotions in his confrontation scene with the young Teresa, played by Gillian Horgan. Yet the magnitude of this graphic scene is, in a sense, mitigated by the lack of conviction she displays in her closing statements: for the violation of this strong-minded young girl can be seen as indicative of the ongoing violation of the whole of Mother Ireland in the wake of the famine. Her defeatist attitude is certainly understandable and indeed appropriate, but distinctly lacks the necessary emotional intensity to draw the play to the catharsis which the audience has been expecting.
In spite of some shining moments and various strands which could have formed a truly powerful production, it seems that the dramatic intensity of this performance never quite comes to fruition.