Published on Public Reviews 14th May
A woman lies on her death bed; mourning a lifetime of missed opportunity, of a life only half lived. Mother to eight children, wife to an unfaithful spouse, she whiles away her last hours with her alter ego Scarecrow; talking about memories of her past life with unshed tears and desperate, hysterical, grasping-at-life laughter. Marina Carr’s play is a cascade of words, symbols and metaphor, full of verbal music in its dense, occasionally uncomfortable, sometimes painful tone. It’s not the easiest of watches; it requires a degree of patience over its two hours but in its poetic and romantic yearnings, mixed with a grounded earthiness that stops it becoming mawkish, it reminds us that the Irish are the go-to writers about life and death and memories of regret.
Siobhán Cannon-Brownlie’s direction catches the tone of the production flush. She directs with great assurance and fluency to draw performances of great truth and stuff them into a production that embraces the epic and the mystical, with death hovering in the cupboard ready to pounce. Rosie Nicholls as the woman and Amy Barnes as the scarecrow deliver performances of great maturity and aching heartache. Nicholls has the right air of regret of not taking advantage of every second, of not discovering more, of not loving more; when she hears that she has been given more time her eyes light up in possibility, before deadening as she finds out the coup de grâce has only been delayed by thirty minutes. Barnes’ alter ego lectures and massages, rescues and ultimately extinguishes all hope. Michael Harkin gives a sleazeball performance as Him, all convivial charm on the outside, all hateful jealousy inside, cosying up to his dying wife whilst his mistress waits outside in the car. Making up the quartet is Anna Riding as the Aunt bringing with her an air of Catholic stoicism and dignity at the impending death. They are performances that prove Bristol Old Vic Theatre School is at the forefront of actor training in this country. Barnes in particular is a name to watch.
If it never quite hits the tragic in its closing moments, this is down to a script in need of an edit and a last scene that replaces the symbolic with the graphic, as though Carr allowed Tarantino access to a draft and asked for suggestions. No matter, it’s another fascinating addition to the Directors’ Cuts season and an indication, if any were needed, about how varied and thrilling the theatre scene in Bristol can be.