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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.

The Shadow Of The Glen
Druid Theatre Company, 2005     December 2020

Part of the Druid Theatre's 2005 DruidSynge project of doing all the Irish dramatist's play, this dark comedy by J M Synge remarkably takes its darkness and its comedy from the same source the all-but-empty lives of the rural Irish poor.

Despite its brevity, it's a play full of twists and surprises, and I can't review it without giving away a couple of them.

In an isolated farmhouse an old man has just died, and his younger wife goes mechanically through the proper rituals. The chance appearance of a passing tramp is a welcome diversion, the requirements of hospitality taking her mind briefly off her troubles.

Another visitor is a young neighbour, who wastes little time in suggesting that, as soon as decencies allow, it might be enjoyable and practical for her to marry him.

But the old man isn't dead after all.

The differing responses to his apparent death, his outraged response to their responses and the ways peace of some sort is restored make up much of the humour, But the playwright also makes clear that they are happening in the context of a world of very limited horizons and opportunities for happiness.

At the end of the play two of the four will leave and two remain. And while the pairings will be completely unpredictable, they are also believable and dramatically satisfying.

Director Garry Hynes and his actors (some of whom appear in other plays in the DruidSynge project) know these people and their world, and can inhabit them with seeming effortlessness.

Catherine Walsh tells us volumes about the woman's life in the wordless opening moments of the play, just through the exhausted-but-determined body language with which she lights a couple of mourning candles, and then lets us watch her mind discover, react to and process new thoughts she's not had the occasion for before.

Mick Lally doesn't hide the tramp's slyness and opportunism but convinces us there is a good man in there somewhere, so that the character who ends up with him in the final pairing-off will be in good hands. Eamon Morrissey as the not-quite-dead man and Nick Lee as the prematurely amorous youth are given fairly stock one-joke characters to play but do them full justice.

The multi-camera video recording by Ronan Fox is intimate without being obtrusive, capturing all the play's atmosphere and comedy.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of  The Shadow Of The Glen - Druid Theatre 2005