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 The Theatreguide.London Review

In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic forced the closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted by putting archive recordings of past productions online, others by streaming new shows. Until things return to normal we review the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.

Riders To The Sea
Druid Theatre, 2005   Winter 2020

Irish drama of a hundred years ago, whether by Synge, O'Casey or others, had a recurring theme: men die and women grieve.

It was a powerful observation, well worthy of reiteration. Men might choose to die and it did seem a choice in war, in rebellion, or in just going down to the sea in ships. Women did not choose the role of mourners, but accepted it with as much faith, grace and simple practicality as they could.

Synge's 1904 one-act play, here in a beautifully understated production by Galway's Druid Theatre, encapsulates all the power of that vision.

In a coastal fishing village two sisters await news of a brother who may have been lost at sea. Word comes of a body washed ashore up the coast, and his clothes are delivered for them to identify.

They try to keep the news from their mother who, as she will tell us, has already lost a husband, a father-in-law and five of her seven sons to the sea.

I don't have to give a spoiler alert because what happens is absolutely inevitable. The sixth son's clothes are identified just as the seventh son heads out to sea and an almost immediate death.

The remarkable thing about this play is that there is very little weeping and wailing, the women's business-like getting on with the job carrying more horror than flashier grieving could.

The body found up the coast has been given a Christian burial and so will the one now lying on the kitchen table, and that they must accept as a blessing of sorts.

The play is saturated in solid realism (not colourful Oirishness, like Synge's Playboy Of The Western World). A wordless opening sequence shows one of the sisters going about her domestic work, establishing this as a woman's world.

Picking up a dead son's walking stick to help her when she goes outside, the mother comments quietly on the irony that children are supposed to inherit things from their parents, not the other way around.

And there can be few lines more tragic than her matter-of-fact account of the men she lost to the sea 'and some of them were found and some were not found.'

Sensitively directed by Garry Hynes, Marie Mullen achieves heartbreaking greatness by resisting any temptation to overact as the mother, while Louise Lewis and Gemma Reeves capture the younger women at a point where they are still teaching themselves how to be stoic.

The fully professional and polished video recording by Ronan Fox serves and enhances the play's quiet power.

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Review of  Riders To The Sea - Druid Theatre 2005/2020