BWW Review: THE COUNTRY GIRLS at The Abbey Theatre
Love in all its Guises
Formerly banned by the Irish censorship board in 1950's Ireland, The Country Girls tells the tale of love in all its incarnations: unconditional, dutiful, compassionate, possessive, devoted, illicit, unrequited, first love.
Two fiercely smart young girls have their delicate bonds cemented during a fateful day of triumph and tragedy. Kate (Grace Collender) and Baba (Lola Petticrew) were a marvellous double act. Solemn friends, confidants, partners in crime, frenemies. Youthful (were they 16 or were they 24?) and delightfully polished actors, Kate and Baba navigated us through the turbulent waters of innocent, naive love. With the blind leading the blind, we witnessed their recurrent shipwrecks in slow motion, then they resolutely reassembled and set sail again.
Their saving grace were the numerous kind souls who emerged to support and enlighten them during their darkest hours. Baba's mother, practical Martha (Mary O'Driscoll), cheerful Sister Mary (Catriona Loughlin) who turned a blind eye to Kate's choice of literature (Joyce, no less!) and candid landlady Joanna (also played by Mary O'Driscoll.)
The ensemble cast, with many seasoned actors, were terrific. It was a joy to see Lisa Lambe again, winner of Broadway World's 2018 Best Actress award. Her intermittent interludes as Kate's mother, Lil, were poignant, and her sean nós singing, heavenly. One gorgeous scene has Kate soaring (literally) after a stirring romantic encounter, not unlike the audience collectively soaring every time Lisa Lambe sang her ballads.
Mr Gentleman played by Steven McCarthy was a fascinating character study. Soft spoken and earnest he made it difficult for us to despise him as Kate's older married suitor. Their encounters veered from the stereotypical and were unsettling and moving.
Movement Director Vicki Manderson tapped into the mood marvellously. Her wistful dance numbers wove beautifully into the tale.
Francis O'Connor's set design was genius! Deftly engineered, the various pieces of furniture were suspended from above and elegantly lowered and raised as required. Every scene was an eye-catching work of art, not unlike taking a stroll through the MOMA. The set was a living and breathing entity. During a scene set at the beach the levitating pieces were dipped and raised as with the ebb and flow of the tide. Beautiful. O'Connor's costumes were also striking, using a neutral black, white and grey palette with occasional splashes of eye-catchingly bright reds, greens, blues and yellows.
I was curious to note the diverse audience: couples young and old, flocks of friends, families, mothers and daughters. What different experiences they would have had. A nod to their own follies and keen lessons for the youth.
Playwright Enda O'Brien has packaged the most complex of subjects into a digestible delicacy that can now thankfully be appreciated by a more enlightened audience. Together with Director Graham McLaren she has brought to life a most elegant and stylish rendition of love. A coming of age story of Ireland's own society.