REVIEW Brewery Lane Theatre, Carrick-on-Suir: Love in the Title
HUGH Leonard’s work has really dropped off the radar in recent times. Once the doyen of the Dublin Theatre Festival, Hugh readied a play each year for many seasons of the Festival. His plays were the staple diet of the amateur theatre circle and countless productions of ‘Da’; ‘A Life’; ‘The Patrick Pearse Motel’; ‘the Au Pair Man’; ‘Kill’; ‘Summer’; and ‘Time Was’ made their way and still do onto the stages of regional theatre for many years. Class, hypocrisy, family and sexual politics were the core themes of his work, along with the ability to write strong characters and, also, to make people laugh.
‘As in all Leonard plays, memories tumble out of the family closet once the portcullis of family privacy and Irish sexual taboo is lifted’
“Love in the Title” brings moments of cynical humour but they are few and far between. It’s an adventurous plotline that works well despite the brutally obvious problems of placing three generations, at various stages in the family evolution, in the one location. Granddaughter Katie is in her mid-thirties and has arrived back to Co. Limerick and the field of Corcamore to paint a watercolour of the legendary standing stone of Cloch Uí Ríogái. Intriguingly, she is accompanied by youthful versions of her mother and grandmother. Katie exists in the present (i.e. 1999), while the others are in their own time with Mother in her mid-thirties in the early sixties and Granny in her late teens in the thirties.
The wide expanse of the bare John Denby set that is dominated by the standing stone – a reminder of the timeless bond of family throughout the ages – is just right for the events set in memory that are about to unfold.
As in all Leonard plays, memories tumble out of the family closet once the portcullis of family privacy and Irish sexual taboo is lifted. Memories never shared even within the family. Of course, Granny Cat turns out to be the girly girl the other two always wanted to be. With two different boyfriends on the go, Cat’s sexual adventures – strictly limited to flirting and mild courtship – along with her daughter’s and granddaughter’s sense of shock, proves very amusing with the audience.
The shock sensibilities of the three women of different generations who all share that same familial bond is the heart of the drama. Each, in turn, comments on the other’s attitudes, morals and spirit, and the sometimes point-blank remarks on the character of each other reveal that typical Irish trait – that unsaid remark that might have resolved outstanding issues in the mother-daughter relationship.
The illusive nature of memory and the accuracy of our recollections also stamps a card on this drama. Granny Cat’s hidden secrets of her childhood in a convent orphanage with its battering view of Christianity, warped sexuality and innate cruelty proves a shocker to her girls. Mother Tríona’s romantic nature destroyed by her own slavish devotion to routine and social acceptability shakes her daughter’s view of the reasons for her mother’s loveless marriage. Mother Tríona has, in turn, some comments to make on her daughter’s inability to settle down, find a husband and mother a child/granddaughter. Ironically, each accuses the other of secrecy and a privacy so obsessive that it would trump the CIA and FBI together. Ah… families.
The weakness of the play is that, while epiphany moments occur for Granny Cat and mother Tríona, none occurs for thirty-something Kate who really appears to know far too much of the unfolding storyline.
Director Maria Clancy maintains a decent pace throughout, deals well with the complex time signatures of the inter-generational narrative and brings strong performances from her cast of three. Aileen O’Keefe’s Kate is assured, detached, somewhat conceited with just that hint of vulnerability. Suzanne Shine’s Tríona is gritty, determined, somewhat reserved and apparently unshakeable until her concession of a much-longed for world of romance and adventure and something beyond the mundane. Jayne Tennyson’s Cat – despite her domicile in the prison-orphanage – is fun, adventurous, spirited and romantic. Probably all of the personality traits her immediate, primary relatives wanted for themselves. The joy of the play is that neither daughter nor granddaughter begrudged Cat that spirit of defiance that neither really inherited.
Love in the title and a lot more besides at Brewery Lane.