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The Country Girls (Susan Elkin reviews)

Edna O’Brien’s own dramatisation of her iconic, cat-among-the-pigeons 1960 novel is good in parts but, sadly, the converse is also true. It still feels like a novel being acted out rather than a well-constructed play. It’s jerkily episodic. The identity and significance of characters is often far from clear and there’s no satisfying exposition, development and denouement.

O’Brien originally infuriated the Catholic Church in Ireland by depicting two 1950s girls from patriarchal, repressive rural Western Ireland who go to Dublin, get into some dubious company learn a lot about life and eventually leave for London. Inevitably that means nasty nuns at school, predatory older men in Dublin and a weeping, useless father furious about his daughter’s independence.

For all that, there’s some impressive acting in this show. Grace Molony (the quality of her LAMDA training shows) makes a fine job of developing Kate from a sensitive, puzzled child devastated by the death of her mother to a young adult – sometimes thoughtful, always intelligent and moved by poetry swinging between having a good time with her more flamboyant friend Baba and her own conscience. As Baba, Genevieve Hulme-Beaman is funny and feisty with a whiff of vulnerability which makes the character seem all too plausible.

There’s lovely work too from Rachel Atkins as the wise, often warm, German landlady in Dublin. Other actors act well enough but it isn’t always clear what their function is. Keshini Misha, dressed in a sari, for example wanders the stage singing a folksong very nicely – twice. I have no idea what this was mean to add or say.

Sometimes the dialogue is hard to hear, moreover. It’s a built in challenge with theatre in the round or on a thrust of course. And here the problem is worsened by the Irish accents whose register sometimes demands slower delivery than the high pitched naturalistic speed it often goes at in this show.

This Chichester production, directed by Lisa Blair, is the UK premiere of this play. I’m not sure how much more we’re likely to hear of it.

First published by Sardines


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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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