Theatre times: ‘Katie Roche’

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Each year in Ireland there is an event called ‘Culture night’ – an evening where museums, galleries and exhibition spaces are open late, and free for all and sundry.  Tonight was that night.

I am a lucky boy in the sense that I finish work at 4pm on a Friday and I live in the city centre. My last quarter of an hour at work was spent clicking on the website, to find cultural things to do on the way home.

The plan was simple. My bus stops at the top of O’Connell Street – I was going to try my luck at getting a backstage tour of the Gate Theatre, and mosey over to the Writers’ Museum to see if I could draw inspiration from other authors’ pain.

I arrived in town at 5pm. The lovely woman at the Gate box office told me that their event was starting at 7.30pm. Too late for my carcass.  I wandered over and investigated the Writers’ Museum which was reasonably engaging.

Then I had a brainwave. I’d head towards the Customs’ House which – for one night only – was open to the public.

En route I passed the Abbey Theatre – the national theatre of Ireland. There was a queue outside. My interest was piqued. What could this be?

They were only giving a backstage guided tour of the joint. My heart skipped a beat. That should be fascinating – being in that world to an extent. Sadly the queue for said tour was already bursting at the seams. Forlornly I turned on my heel – the Customs’ House it would be after all.

Then I noticed another queue. Upon inquiry I discovered that they were giving out complimentary tickets for that evening’s performance of ‘Katie Roche’ by Teresa Deevy on the main stage.

A free play? Well it would have been rude not to.

Rather a good play it was too.

I had seen the poster of the solemn looking woman playing the title role on the posters. Aside from that I knew nothing about it.

It opens with the frame of a miniature country farmhouse, lit on the stage. It elevates to reveal a young woman flailing in the mud which covered the stage.

Her name is Katie.

She is an ‘illegitimate’ young woman in rural 1930s Ireland, who after being raised by the nuns is now in domestic service for respectable spinster Amelia Gregg (a very funny Siobhan McSweeney) . She grew up in this town. They all know about the stain on her character – being born out of wedlock.

Amelia’s brother Stan (Sean Campion) returns to the house. He offers Katie ‘escape’ from her upbringing – ‘respectability’ in the form of marriage. Katie cares for Stan. But he is a very staid man. Who is much older than she is. Katie yearns for possibility and opportunity and adventure. She is young, and engaged in a flirtation with a local boy Michael Maguire (Kevin Creedon).

She marries Stan and soon is stifled in this respectable house with its twitching curtains.

The stage is very simple and very beautiful – covered in mud at the start, until white pathways emerge as the mud is swept aside. An altar rises from the floor which at times serves as a kitchen table or a coffin stand.

The lead performance by Caoilfhionn Dunne is excellent. She portrays the character of Katie with an air of desperate energy that is stifled by her surroundings, prowling the stage looking for release.

Apparently the play was written for the Abbey stage in the 1930s, and its writer Teresa Deevy was until quite recently ‘forgotten’.

I’m happy she’s having a revival.

This is an impressive production, masterfully directed by Caroline Byrne.

It closes on Saturday 23rd. Not much time left.

If you’re free, I’d recommend you go see it.

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