Review: Famished Castle

Are all the characters in Hilary Fannin’s new play toxically self-involved or has our national plummet from prosperity left everybody isolated?

Famished Castle

Pavilion Theatre, Dublin


An aging man, under the hard frost of dementia, barely registers anyone around him. A middle-aged mother curls up with a glass of wine and a headful of memories and talks to herself. An older woman, in a fug of grief, betrayal, alcohol and illness, holidays alone. And at one point an unhappy man, exiled in Berlin, describes going on a date with himself. Are all the characters in Hilary Fannin’s new play toxically self-involved or has our national plummet from prosperity left everybody isolated?


Beginning with the accidental reunion of ex-lovers Angie (Aislin McGukin), a married schoolteacher, and Nat (Raymond Scannell), a Berlin-based property something-or-other home to care for his father, the play begins as a lament for what might have been and turns into a sustained complaint.

The chronically disappointed Angie and Nat are, it seems, mere children themselves. Nat’s whole existence is overshadowed by a sibling who died in infancy; Angie’s personal and professional lives are dimly suggested noble chores.

But what is their attraction? They seem pointedly depthless ciphers, delivering interchangeably lofty remarks about couples “pushing two-tiered buggies, eating tofu burgers, sniffing pomegranates” (Angie) or mothers “doing hot yoga and Sudoku and drinking Chardonnay from the fridge” (Nat). This would feel like a more stinging bourgeois critique if Angie and Nat weren’t themselves trading notes on German breakfasts, sharing partridge soup and having a banal affair.

Without the energy of anger, resistance or even tragedy, they make for enervating company, and Rough Magic's production likewise seems sapped. Bláithín Sheerin's set is an unprepossessing construction of stocky pillars and translucent curtains in clouded blues and overcast greys. The set is repositioned by the performers, but at one point furniture moves away distractingly by itself! That may be a send-up of Celtic Tiger razzmatazz, just as the appearance of a Damien Hirst shark tank transports the action to a seafood restaurant in 2004, to where Fannin traces some of the rot.

Here, Nat's father Tom is revealed as a materialist, misogynist boor, his mother Trixie an embittered souse, but at least Vincent McCabe and Eleanor Methven find some vigour in this perversely sustaining 36-year struggle of a marriage. By contrast, Nat – haunted by the discovery of infant remains at a development site acquired from a religious order – is ready to cut and run at the first sign of loaded symbolism.

Director Lynne Parker’s choices are not easy to fathom. Why is Angie sitting dejectedly on the floor in a puddle of light, slipping out of time when the play alternates between 2014 and 2004? Why is poor Eleanor Methven left sitting in an interminably frozen pose at the dinner table? Is there another way to signal the hollowness of capitalist excess than by having someone throw a wad of cash in the air? But the bigger question, for a play occupied with the state of the nation, is how did we get here? And that one is left hanging. It is, finally, a morose portrait, where once again a feckless man retreats from obligation and a dutiful woman is left holding the baby.

Ends May 23

Peter Crawley

Peter Crawley

Peter Crawley, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about theatre, television and other aspects of culture