Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
A CurtainUp London Review
By the Bog of Cats
by Lizzie Loveridge
Hester Swane (Holly Hunter) lives in a caravan on the edge of an Irish bog. She has a child, Josie Kilbride (Kate Costello/Ellie Flynn-Watterson/Chloe O'Sullivan) by Carthage Kilbride (Gordon Mac Donald) who is now marrying Caroline Cassidy (Denise Gough). Kilbride and Caroline want to take Josie on their honeymoon (strains of Medea meets Miss Saigon/Mme Butterfly?) The bog is a mysterious and superstitious place, full of enigmatic people, the ghosts of previous generations and those that can see them. There is Catwoman (Brid Brennan), an old and revered witch who drinks milk by lapping it out of a saucer and who is rumoured to bring bad luck if she is not invited to celebrations.
By the Bog of Cats is not all doom and gloom in the gloamin'. The wedding scene allows the characterisation of Kilbride's ridiculous mother (Barbara Brennan) whose social pretension and posturing made me laugh. The child Josie and the part written for her with its candid observation is appealing without being mawkish and overly sentimental. Hunter herself is gutsy and quirky with good stage presence. The opening scene sees her, a thin but muscular waif, dragging a dead black swan, surely a portent of her own death. Swan …… Swane? Geddit? Her hair is tied in New Age plaits and ribbons and she swigs from a whiskey bottle like a man. Her Irish accent is at best curious. Sorcha Cusack as Monica Murray, Hester's neighbour replaces the Greek chorus, as a down to earth figure and sympathetic to Hester.
I suppose anyone looking at the comparison with Medea might tend to concentrate on where the two tales deviate. Medea was in a strange country, an alien, while Hester is on her home territory; there is no poisoned dress given to the Jason character's new wife. No physical threat exists to Hester's child the way there is to Medea's son and daughter. But both women have that witch like quality, a sense of using the supernatural to achieve their own outcomes, although Medea was more sorceress and Hester has gypsy or traveller blood. Hester Swane, like Medea finds herself a victim of men. She is not just vulnerable to Carthage's rejection of her but also is threatened and abused by local landowner and Caroline's father, Xavier Cassidy (Trevor Cooper).
In trying to put one's finger on what is dissatisfying about this production, one can't fault t he acting is mostly fine with some wayward accents, except of course from native Irish speakers like Brid Brennan and Sorcha Cusack. However the text is so very wordy, narrative based, at times sounding more like a radio play than a staged performance and Dominic Cooke's static direction does nothing to alleviate this. The caravan looks authentic but just sits there. The sets do not really create the right conditions for the imagination to be fired for us to believe that we are in this lonely wilderness where the peat absorbs not just rainwater but pulls down unsuspecting travellers and makes them disappear without a trace.
I think By the Bog of Cats falls between two stools. It misses the charm of the Irish storytelling of The Weir and lacks the intensity of pure tragedy. I hope that Holly Hunter will not be put off by this experience but will find a vehicle for the London stage which works better than this creaky Travellers' caravan to demonstrate her ability as an exceptional actress.
Mendes at the Donmar
Peter Ackroyd's History of London: The Biography
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co. Click image to buy.
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
Click image to buy.
Go here for details and larger image.