Arts: One Company makes three a crowd...

Synge's 'Shadow' puts Yeats in the shade: Paul Taylor on an RSC trilogy

Three plays in an hour and a quarter? Sounds more like something you'd associate with the Reduced Shakespeare Company than with the Royal Shakespeare Company. It's intensity, of course, not duration that matters where a theatrical experience is concerned and so, in prospect, a trio of powerful Irish one-acters - two by JM Synge, the other by WB Yeats - looked like a highly tempting proposition from the RSC. But, in the event, despite many local pleasures, these pieces fail to work as the kind of triptych where the whole lends added meaning to the parts.

A proportion of the blame lies with the staging, which gives rise to some dubious interpretative decisions. The audience sits in banks on both sides of the long central acting area. Director John Crowley has tried to make a virtue of the fact that the transitions from one play to another have to happen in full view by presenting the three plays in a seamless flow. So, at the end of Riders to the Sea - Synge's bleak Lorca-like focus on the desolation of a family of women who learn that they have now lost all their menfolk to the waves - Stella McCusker's grim, heart-breaking mother suddenly slaps the corpse of the son she has been laying out with such ritualistic dignity; the actor springs up and, to loud whoops and a jaunty communal dance, the action segues into the mischievous black comedy of the same author's The Shadow of the Glen.

You can see the reasoning behind this. Shadow begins with a most unorthodox wake (just an isolated woman and the body of her elderly unloving husband, who is only pretending to be dead to test her fidelity). So why not modulate into this with an abrupt gleeful wake for a playfully resurrected man? Well, one objection is that, for me, the effect felt like a desecration and betrayal of the tragic mood so austerely established in Riders. Second, the woman's bitter, curmudgeonly husband (Lalor Roddy), popping into bed at the start and lying doggo, made a point of letting us see that this was a con trick, which robbed the play of the surprise element built into it by Synge. It's rather as though Hermione were to tip the audience the wink that she wasn't really just an inert statue at the start of the great coming-to-life scene in The Winter's Tale.

Mairead McKinley is excellent in both plays, as the more intense and confrontational of the daughters in Riders and as the wife, driven first to pained shrewishness by her mean-minded spouse and then into the arms of a shy, visiting tramp with the poetic gift of the gab. People who enjoy the comedy of current wunderkind Martin McDonagh will find here the wonderful genuine article he ruthlessly imitates. But Shadow and Riders combined prove to be a far from ideal preparation for the final piece, Yeats's Purgatory - a passionate, starkly abstract demonstration of sin recycling itself through the generations. It's a great play, like some compressed, ghastly and ghostly negation of the redemption-over-time in Shakespeare's late romances. But it made more of an impact when it was given as part of a recent Yeats season at the little Pentameters Theatre in Hampstead. Here, it's in the right Company but the wrong company.

The Other Place, RSC, Stratford. Booking: 01789 295623

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
News
i100
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Toure could leave Manchester City in the summer, claims his agent
transfers
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
News
media
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Senior C++ Developer

    £350 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Senior C++ Developer – L...

    SEN English Teacher

    upto £110 a day approx: Randstad Education Cheshire: English EBD Teacher requi...

    SEN Teaching Assistant Runcorn

    £50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant EBD , Septemb...

    Client Services Associate (MS Office, Analysis, Graduate)

    Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Client Services Associate (Microsoft Office, Ana...

    Day In a Page

    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
    Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
    Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

    Feather dust-up

    A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
    5 best waterproof cameras

    Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

    Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
    Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

    Louis van Gaal interview

    Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
    Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

    Will Gore: Outside Edge

    The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz