Lally the Scut review: grotesque caricatures abound in an insular Border community
In spite of a fast-moving narrative, the action sometimes feels laboured
Venue: The Mac
Date Reviewed: April 16th, 2015
In Abbie Spallen’s new play for Tinderbox, her distinctive vision focuses, in heightened definition, on her home place, the bogs and marshes, rolling hills and secret places of the northern borderlands. In this haunting landscape, history crunches underfoot. In spite of the upbeat pontifications of local politicians and do-gooders, the past is there at every turn, soaked in blood, clandestine plotting and the enduring fear of dissident activity. This is not the Ireland of tourist brochures.
The scut in question is Lally (Róisín Gallagher), christened Eulalia by her ultra-religious mother Rahab (Maria Connolly) and subsequently dumped down a well. In a bizarre re-run of her own fate and in the company of her embittered mother-in-law, Ellen (Carol Moore), she scrabbles desperately in the black, clinging mud for her young son, trapped in a flood hole on the hillside.
Lally is a force of nature, a tormented, semi-feral creature, heavily pregnant by her dim-witted wastrel husband, Francis (Michael Condron). She is a social outcast, which turns out to be a blessing in disguise in this community of grotesque caricatures, among them a seductive zealot (Connolly), deviant priest (Tony Flynn), outraged pillar of the community (Vincent Higgins), puffed-up local councillor (Alan McKee) and earnest television reporter (Frank McCusker), who is intent on compensating Lally for the wrong he caused when covering her own living death 20 years previously.
This big, green country, “insular, bovine and joyously repressive”, is terrifically captured by Ciaran Bagnall’s set and lighting, a place where not even the plight of the disappeared escapes cynical comment. Michael Duke’s direction reduces humanity to tiny, ant-like creatures, scurrying through the twists and turns of Spallen’s salty, knowing, expletive-laden narrative.
In spite of a fast-moving, snapshot-like narrative, the action sometimes feels laboured. There is, deliberately, little that is naturalistic about the performances, but in some cases, this approach can feel overworked and self-conscious. After a promising start to act two, Gallagher is left stranded in the final scene, her face fixed in a single tortured expression as she silently watches the recovery of her son on a flickering television screen while the subplots swirl around her. Gerard McCabe does an engaging turn as the half-baked Digger Barnes, leader of the rescue team, while Tara Lynne O’Neill is perfect as a post-conflict, power-dressed politician, whose smiling gibberish is so meaningless that she cannot finish her own sentences. Until May 2nd