reviewsTheatre The Only True History of Lizzie Finn The Abbey Theatre, Dublin
'The simplicity and innocent beauty of the language gives it depth and an elegiac quality'
Friday 13 October 1995
Opening in set designer Joe Vanek's magnificently achieved recreation of a music hall in Weston-super-Mare in the 1890s, Lizzie Finn is a celebrated dancer, a self-made Kerry woman of lowly origins. Meeting him first on the seafront and subsequently assaulted by the good intentions of his leg-covering overcoat on the music hall stage, Lizzie, a woman of repressed national identity and immense strength of character, allows herself to be charmed by the awkward pleasantries of Robert Gibson, a soldier-come- lately from the war in South Africa. Romance flourishes and Gibson, himself from landed stock in Kerry, takes her away from all that and back to his crumbling family estate. Lizzie's money props up the debt-ridden domain, but her background and Robert's damnation of the ethics of war are ultimately too much for the social fabric of the area's elite to bear.
Gibson's mother, Lady Gibson, is a complex but loveable eccentric, last of an old order and doomed to the upkeep of appearances. Played with exceptional characterisation by Joan O'Hara, she is chastised by the local aristocracy, the Castlemaines, and banned from church by the rector. When her body is washed up from the sea, this "trio of lunatics" alone are invited to the wake. Robert realises he has led Lizzie "astray to this useless place", and, freeing themselves from the shackles of a fading society, they talk finally of selling up and walking into the sunset (Cork, to be precise), where a new music hall has just opened and, married to Robert, Lizzie could charge "extraordinary fees".
It is a tale with warmth, humour and a happy ending. While the plot and the message are essentially straightforward, the simplicity and innocent, honest beauty of the language Barry uses gives it depth and, in a strange sense, given the comedic nature of the work, an elegiac quality. The atmosphere of the music hall and the mansions are given life by a series of brilliantly tangential Shakespearean comedy scenes with a litany of minor characters. Birdy Sweeney, in multiple roles of teasingly Kind Hearts and Coronets resonance, and the frenetic, dizzy young maidservant Theresa, played with infectious energy by Fionnuala Murphy, were both outstanding. Choreographed scenes involving a knowingly preposterous Buffalo Bill & His Wild West Show and a collection of music hall archetypes were largely successful, while Shaun Davey's score, based on a single theme, evoked brilliantly, by turns, the vaudeville swagger and cold, windswept Kerry pathos demanded of it. Ironically, Alison Deegan, as Lizzie, was the weak link, miscast and simply unconvincing as the girlish fighter made good and too often dragging the understatement of her lines up a one-dimensional alley. Otherwise, a fine production and a first-rate piece of writing.
n Abbey Theatre, Dublin (003531 8787222) 8pm nightly (except Sunday, matinee Saturday) to 4 Nov
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated
tvAn expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle
artLee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 The BBC has just done more to eradicate ‘terrorism’ than all our wars since 9/11
- 2 Dog thinks owner is drowning in lake, dives in and tries to pull him out
- 3 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 4 Chilling drone footage captures Auschwitz ahead of 70th anniversary of liberation
- 5 Phil Neville backtracks on Tomas Rosicky 'I'd smash him' comments from Match of the Day 2
Heavy metal producer's corpse to be mutilated by models as per his dying wish
Ed Sheeran texts Noel Gallagher to offer him tickets after that Wembley Stadium rant
Sia apologises for 'Elastic Heart' music video that sees Shia LaBeouf wrestle 12-year-old Maddie Ziegler
Mortdecai becomes Johnny Depp's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Last Tango in Halifax, review: Can we ever really move on from Kate?
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks
Islamic history is full of free thinkers - but recent attempts to suppress critical thought are verging on the absurd
Leaked documents show Ukip leaders approve NHS privatisation once it becomes more 'acceptable to the electorate'