“Take what you can get from Ireland and scoot… Leave before it takes your belief from you, or worse, buries it within you.” So says Finn, a down on his luck poet living in Dublin, advising our main character Kate to leave the Emerald Isle and seek pastures new. His appearance and announcements coincide with the bleaker view of Ireland we see in the latter parts of the play. At first we are told of the haunting beauty of the lakes and the bogs, learning later that even Irelnad’s rugged beauty can not keep someone whose heart is broken by the people and the place.
Edna O’Brien’s debut novel, The Country Girls, was published in 1960. Like the rest of her work in that decade, the book was banned, as were the two sequels, The Lonely Girls, and Girls in Their Married Bliss. On viewing the play last night, one can see why it was banned in the Irleland of the time; Full of sexual innuendo, some playful scenes, a hint of a lesbian relationship and full on mockery of nuns, the crowd would have been up in arms!
Kate and Baba are our two country girls. After Kate’s mother dies in a boat accident and needing a place to stay away from her drunken, abusive father, she goes to live with Baba and her parents. The two girls go to the prestigious convent, St. Enda’s, where Kate excels in all things studious, while Baba is content to study her body and not much else.
Following an incident at school, the country girls make the move to Dublin. The vibrance and non-stop clock of the city life will set the girls on two different paths; Kate on one of heartbreak; and Baba on one of self-discovery.
Instead of drawling on about the different acts and scenes of the play, I think a good indicator of how good this play was was the ending. After Kate says goodbye to Ireland and her past the whole cast comes out and performs a small dance number, with Kate finally running towards the back of the stage as if towards her future. The stage goes pitch black and you’re left to wonder how will she get on in London? I audibly gasped, which I take as a good sign.
The set design was innovative and enjoyable. Every prop was suspended above the stage, ready to be released down when needed and pulled back up again when the scene finished.
Catriona Ennis who played Baba, the foul mouthed and wayward friend, was hilarious and a joy to watch. She commanded the stage when present, generating healthy laughs from the audience.
While the rest of the play was full of life, music, dance or movement, the scene between Kate, played by Grace Collender and Mr. Gentleman, played by Steven McCarthy fell a bit flat. In contrast, the fantastic Collender was a giant in the scenes with her father.
As the play opened, we saw Kate and her mother dancing and running around the stage. I immediately sank into my chair, preparing myself for two hours of an Irish novel told through interprative dance. I’m very glad I was wrong.
The Country Girls is playing in the Opera House until this Saturday the 20th.