The Theatreguide.London Review
Woman and Scarecrow
Royal Court Theatre Summer 2006
'Do not go gentle into that good night,' wrote Dylan Thomas, and in Marina Carr's new play a dying woman rages, not only against the dying of the light, but against those - including herself - who had kept her from living fully while she could have.
It is inevitably a dark-toned play, complete with lines like 'The whole point of living is preparing to die' and 'The arc of our time here bends to tragedy,' but there is also a share of humour and warmth.
Ultimately, though, it is a two-hour cry of pain which, given a certain repetitious quality in the writing, might profitably been an hour shorter.
Carr's mechanism for allowing her character's pain to be voiced is to give her someone to bounce off. The Scarecrow of the title is another female figure, perhaps representing her soul or her conscience or just a personal daemon who has accompanied her through life.
Alternately sympathising and goading, this alternate self helps the woman through her dying hours. There are also brief appearances by the woman's ne'er-do-well husband, trying within his limits to be sympathetic, and a spinster aunt who is not as cold and unbending as she appears.
But most of the play is a threnody, the pouring out of all the dying woman's fears, pains and angers, with the Scarecrow seemingly determined to keep her passions high, to make her go out fighting rather than surrendering too easily to the monster waiting just offstage.
Much of the play's power comes in its being a vehicle for two strong actresses, and one could hardly imagine better performances than those of Fiona Shaw and Brid Brennan, the one bedridden but burning with a lifetime's passions she must spend in the time allotted, the other roaming the stage like a sparring partner or trainer pushing her athlete to her limit.
Peter Gowen and Stella McCusker provide solid support in the secondary roles, and Ramin Gray directs to keep the energy levels high.
But the play really says most of what it has to say by halfway through, and then overstays its welcome.
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