Thursday, 10 September 2015

By the Bog of Cats - Abbey Theatre

It appears to be something of a Greek season for the Abbey with Wayne Jordan's incoming adaptation of Oedipus and the Abbey's current production: By the Bog of Cats, a retelling of Euripides' ancient Greek classic, Medea. Hester Swain is a woman scorned. Betrayed by her lover, Carthage Kilbride, for a new bride, Hester has found herself being run off by Carthage and her usurper's father, the severe patriarch Xavier Cassidy. Having been abandoned by her mother as a child, Hester isn't quick to let things go, especially her bog and her daughter, Josie, Hester's mother's namesake. The resulting spiral of anger and bitterness in which shows that no character is as they seem, drives Hester to commit the unspeakable.

Monica Frawley's set is a wonderful reflection of the plays desolate content. A misty frozen over bog with a partially visible caravan sticking out of the ground: though this particular feature is absent for the majority of the play, it has a significant role in the stunning opening in which the interior of the sunk caravan is explored with an iphone wielding adventurer. His phone recordings displayed on a large screen at the back of the stage, found footage style. Unfortunately, it is not long after this intriguing opening that the cracks show. Hester engages in many long-drawn static dialogue exchanges which are so quiet and gives the language so much emphasis you would think it was as poetic as Shakespeare. Now, I haven't gotten personal in any of these reviews so far, but this is one instance that I feel very inclined to do so. The language of this play frustrated me. Being a bogger myself, it was incredibly irritating hearing so much bogger cadence and colloquialisms with very little infused poetic creativity, voiced with so much stressed syllables, and given so much time and attention when the result is like a monotonous, poetically unconscious Seamus Heaney.  

However, much like The Abbey's Midsummer Night's Dream, the older cast members are a comedic saving grace. Marion O' Dwyer is excellent as Mrs. Kilbride, a rage-fuelled, eye popping sneering bully. Bríd ní Neachtain also gives a good performance as the idiosyncratic, soothsaying Catwoman and Des Nealon is also great as the inept priest Father Willow. Due to these performances, the play reaches a comedic high at the mid-way wedding scene, but unfortunately, we must return to Hester Swain's tragedy following this. Herein lies probably the play's greatest fault: its inconsistency of tone. There's tragi-comic, then there's expecting an audience to have the emotional capacity of a light switch. This is especially apparent with Hester Swain's dance with the cowboy Ghost Fancier after we have just witnessed something disturbing in the plays final scene. This incongruence doesn't offer anything.

It is also a shame that such a finely designed set goes to waste. The sinking caravan, the half buried fridge, the secret compartments, everything is used minimally. This is especially true for the screen which is barely used and not to much good effect beyond the opening. All and all it's a very confused production with some good performances.

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