Wyndhamís Warehouse, London WC2
Opened 1 December, 2004

I once heard an actor asked what part of Ireland his character came from; in reply, some wag quipped, ďMost of it, if his accentís anything to go by.Ē  Well, in this play Holly Hunter comes from most of Ireland. Also parts of Latin America and maybe even Sri Lanka.  Iím not just being pedantic. For Hunter expends so much effort on the accent that she loses the musicality and the intensity of the words themselves.

Marina Carr has written a rural Irish version of the Greek tragedy Medea.  Hunter plays Hester Swane, deserted by her common-law husband in favour of a more advantageous match. When he and his in-laws try to force her out of the district, she wreaks a dire revenge.  Like the heroine of Euripidesí Greek play, Hester is at once sympathetic and fearsome, victim and villain. Above all, sheís a woman who wonít be cowed.

Playwright Carr also sticks to the classical Greek template in the way she structures her play. Itís very talky, mostly one duet after another, as each pair argue their conflicting cases.  Director Dominic Cooke does nothing to break up this formality, accentuated by Hildegard Bechtlerís stark set design.  Only in a wedding scene do things really liven up; even the climax feels dully, not thrillingly, inevitable.

Thereís nothing wrong with this kind of dramatic ritual. The trouble is Ė and I say this as an Irishman myself Ė that when you mix it with Celtic poeticism, itís easy to start sounding ridiculous.  Iím afraid that, from the moment Hester enters, dragging the corpse of a black swan, you know youíre deep in the land of faith-and-begorrah symbolism.  Author Carr herself is from the centre of Ireland, but she simply overdoes it.

Holly Hunterís performance is one more weak link. She has played the role in the States, so knows whatís required, but this skilled screen actress is oddly two-dimensional here, missing the depth that would make Hester human to us.  None of these flaws is fatal in itself. However, each one chips away a little more at what could have been achieved.  Itís not a disaster. But, from such undeniable talent, you expect more.

Written for Teletext.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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