The October theme at the Citizens seems to be togetherness, in terms of programming at least: the shows in the Citz's three spaces nestle comfortably beside each other on alphabetically arranged listings pages, and their intervals also happen to coincide – a situation which may foster a sense of community among the audiences, but no doubt drives the bar staff frantic. The fare itself comprises the poetical grime of Sean O'Casey, a late, reflective piece by Noël Coward and a slice of late nineteenth-century Sicilian verismo, and each production contains enough to sustain interest without arousing great passion.
In the main theatre, O'Casey's The Shadow Of A Gunman asserts itself again as a more likeable play than either The Plough And The Stars or Juno And The Paycock. Kenny Miller's design spreads the Dublin tenement room over as much of the stage as he can manage in the grandiose squalor which characterises modern O'Casey sets; a shabby partitioning curtain is occasionally used as a "wipe" across the stage, to facilitate hidden entrances and exits. But the core of the play in performance is not the fatal consequences when poetaster Donal Davoren allows the tenement folk to believe he is an IRA gunman in hiding, but the relationship between Davoren and Seumas Shields.
This kind of disjunction – the bookish, Shelley-spouting Davoren and Shields, a huckster maddened to find that his latest job lot of cutlery only contains eleven spoons in each dozen bundle – is the stuff of a fine comic double-act; Lalor Roddy and John O'Toole mesh well together, playing the comedy in the script with an unobtrusive flair that can fool an audience into missing several of the gags. The descent into catastrophic tragedy is similarly kept on this side of Oirish melodrama by director Jon Pope; the irruption of one of the hated Black and Tans carries menace rather than stage villainy, and the duo – being one half atheist and both halves male – bring to their grief none of the extravagant martyrdom of O'Casey's Catholic mothers. Pope cannot resist the pointless symbolism of having a mute little boy appear every so often, but for the most part we are mercifully free of the operatic excesses which dog so many productions of this playwright's work.
Passions eventually run high in Giovanni Verga's The She Wolf, in the Stalls Studio. It takes half an hour of low-key capering, brawling and proverb-sparring among the workers on a small Sicilian farm before the story begins to emerge, of widow Pina's desire for Nanni Lasca, who is in turn more interested in Pina's daughter. A number of years have passed before the events of the second act, which climaxes in a battle of Lorca-esque intensity between Mara, now Lasca's wife, and her returning mother.
As Pina, the predator who gives the play its title, Yolanda Vasquez is terrific, rendering the small space even more claustrophobic with the ferocity of her frustrated desires. She is given no serious competition either by Patti Clare, whose Mara never quite seems to be fully present, or by Paul Albertson, whose initial adolescent inarticulacy as Lasca gives way to a two-dimensionality as a man caught between competing female forces. Stewart Laing has staged the first act in particular with a keen sense of the early dramatic realism of Verga's writing, but cannot avoid being overwhelmed by the fervours of the second act.
Above in the Circle Studio, the denial of such passions is the focus of Noël Coward's last full-length play A Song At Twilight. Sir Hugo Latymer, the admired writer and wit who brutally refuses to admit his homosexuality, is a Dorian Gray-like self-portrait, but it is Hugo's former mistress Carlotta and his wife Hilde whose speeches about embracing, or at least accepting, his real nature resound with the author's own hopes.
Robert David MacDonald plays Hugo as a more bilious John Le Mesurier, so used to suppressing genuine emotion that he has forgotten how to feel it; Roberta Taylor's Carlotta argues against him with the sometimes excessive zeal of a Portia when giving voice to the author's not-so-secret heart. Although Coward's dramatic craft is on full display, it is a strangely naked play with an honest sadness underlying much of the dialogue. Pound for pound, Giles Havergal's unforced production packs the greatest intellectual and emotional impact of the three shows.
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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