Having wowed audiences around the country last year with Mike Hession’s stunning production of Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband, one could have forgiven Compántas Lir for taking some time out from the competitive festival circuit and putting their feet up this year. However, their idea of a break is to ambitiously stage the powerful Marina Carr play By the Bog of Cats, produced by experienced newcomer to the group Margaret Martin from Oranmore and set for three performances in Claregalway and Galway City this month and next.
In terms of cast, this play, like An Ideal Husband, has 13 characters and is another mammoth undertaking by Compántas Lir. The fact that they can stage two plays on consecutive years, using 26 different actors, only underlines the strength of the company and it is particularly heartening this year to see some fine young actors coming through, the youngest of whom is 14-year-old Ailbhe Hession, daughter of Liz and Mike, so it’s not from the wind she took it.
By the Bog of Cats catches a momentous and tragic day in the life of Hester Swane (Lilyann Hannon), a troubled soul about to witness the marriage of the man she loves to another woman. And if that’s not bad enough, two rich farming families are determined to evict her from her home and take her young daughter from her. Her only allies are equally outcast or displaced women, like Catwoman, (Evelyn Casserly) a blind clairvoyant with a taste for mice and lapping her wine from a saucer.
Carr conjures a churning, bigoted society for which land and money are all that really matter, a society in which anyone dim enough to put their faith in other values is likely to receive brutal treatment. The playwright’s intent seems to be satirical, but her satire is an imagistic one, filled with burning calves, poisoned dogs, black swans and blood-drenched ghosts. The success of By the Bog of Cats is that it manages to fold these bizarre images into the action, performing little miracles of balance, never letting the audience cosy up to any particular tone.
Even while heading inexorably towards a classical tragedy, Carr stylishly detours into a hilarious ensemble wedding scene in which the cast’s full arsenal of spite and delirium is on show.
Miss Carr is the current darling of Irish theatre, so it is a great opportunity for local audiences to see this, one of her best plays. Indeed, when it is staged in Galway, it will be the first time it has been performed in the city. The cast also includes Fidelma O’Rourke, Mike Hession, Bernadette Prendergast, Simon Kavanagh, Sean Kavanagh, Patricia Carton, Padraic O’Connell, Peter Talbot and Alan Feeney,
Compántas Lir will stage By The Bog of Cats on April 2nd and 3rd for two nights at the Town Hall Theatre, Galway, shows for which there is already intense demand in the city.
Tickets for the Town Hall Theatre production are on sale at £8 each at (091) 569777 and this represents an ideal opportunity for locals to see their pride of the parish perform on what is the finest stage in the west of Ireland.
Declan Varley, P.R.O.