The Arts Theatre may be located in the bustling West End, but head through its doors this month and you’ll find yourself in an isolated corner of Ireland, where one family’s violent past refuses to stay buried.
Squeezing an ambitious set of themes into its two hour run, playwright Ann Henning Jocelyn’s offering explores the long-term effects of the Irish War of Independence, the impact of living in religious discord and the potentially destructive repercussions of keeping secrets through the prism of one disjointed family.
Locked up safe in their ivory tower – or in this case a manor fishery where their neighbours are known simply as the help – the traditional unit is led by its feisty matriarch Lady Eliza (Elaine Montgomerie) who deplores her tomboy granddaughter Titania’s (Alex Gilbert) fondness for donning jogging bottoms and wellies at the dinner table.
But as the antiquated lady of the house reaches the end of her life memories from her childhood, of one terrible night in which her family’s ancestral home was burned to the ground by IRA rebels, rise to the surface, refusing to be quelled even by her stuffy daughter’s disgust for daring to bring up such ugly truths decades later.
A letter written to Titania to read when she is gone weaves throughout the subsequent narrative and dramatic turns of events, as Jocelyn’s soap opera leads to a conclusion that suggests that however far your life takes you away from your roots, your familial past, even generations later, is inescapable.
Gilbert is tasked with the challenge of portraying the grandly named Titania from stroppy teenage years, where supersized chips sit on both of her shoulders, to dysfunctional adulthood; her tale of post-natal depression, reinvention and failed marriages making up the main action of the play while her parents, Meg (Maev Alexander) and Andrew (Cornelius Garrett), numbly watch on.
While Titania’s journey may take her to New York and back via unhappy boarding schools and even unhappier hospitals, Meg and Andrew stay tied to their home in Connemara. While their sheltered life may be less melodramatic than their daughter’s, and the whirlwind she produces always remains at odds with their plodding pace, it is their slow but determined transformation over the years where Jocelyn finds hope.
As the pair move from isolation to integration and work towards a society where Catholics and Protestants can create a better life together, the lessons learnt throughout the generations finally prove fruitful in Lars Harald Gathe’s very traditionally staged production.