DruidGregory review: Captivating performance rooted in history

Revival of Lady Augusta Gregory’s neglected works is of vital importance

★★★★☆

At Coole, the collision of past and present is delivered through a collection of Augusta Gregory's neglected works. Druid combines representations of raw sorrow, naked nationalism, and raucous humour to honour Lady Gregory's legacy at her home, the historical site of Coole Park.

Gregory’s plays have been notably absent from Irish stages for far too long. This revival is of vital importance, not only for a canon in urgent need of revision, but also because, despite the common view, Gregory’s plays provide worthy and clever snapshots of an important moment in Irish theatre history.

The nationalism that underpins two of her best-known texts, The Rising of the Moon and Cathleen Ní Houlihan, can appear a blunt instrument in contemporary times. However, these political allegories bookend DruidGregory, highlighting the political significance of Gregory’s work.

The setting of The Rising of the Moon is perhaps the most effective of the entire series, drawing fully on its surroundings. In Cathleen, Marie Mullen is striking as The Old Woman, leaning into moments of stillness and silence, presenting this well-known character as a literal monument of significance.

Standout

Francis O’Connor’s light touch approach to set design allows the natural beauty of Coole Park to take centre stage across the five short plays. Augmented by Barry O’Brien’s simple yet exquisite lighting design, the entire performance places the audience along a porous boundary line between the historical and the contemporary. These threshold spaces hold the power of this performance.

Unexpectedly, the standout performance moves away from nationalist rigour and atmospheric mystique. Gregory's raucous comedy, Hyacinth Halvey, is the ideal centrepiece of the production. Gregory's humour is often overlooked, and Hyacinth Halvey rivals Synge for its considered parody of rural twentieth century Ireland.

Presented as a delightful farce, it delivers comic relief and a breadth of capable performances from the ensemble. Here, the set allows for a more ostentatious addition to the traditional setting, which only accentuates its high-energy delivery.

Comic timing

Garry Hynes' direction is at its most solid here and Donal Gallery is flawless as the unfortunate Sub-Sanitary Inspector. In his Druid debut, Gallery makes a significant contribution to the production with impeccable comic timing and a physical presence that befits the setting.

DruidGregory is a captivating performance, deeply rooted in historical and geographical space. One wonders how these works will transfer out of Coole. Perhaps The Gaol Gate and McDonough's Wife, which at times felt slightly surplus to requirements in Gort, will find a moment to shine against the backdrop of the Portumna Workhouse or Kylemore Abbey.

Ultimately, this is an opportunity for Irish audiences to become reacquainted with one of our most important dramatic figures and through this traditional re-presentation, Druid capably lead the way.

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