The cruel tragedy in Sive: ‘Women must pay for all happiness’

As materialism makes a comeback, Druid take another look at Sive and find there’s much left to discover

Brian Doherty as Mike Glavin, Grainne Good as Sive and Andrea Irvine as Mena in Druid’s production of Sive by John B Keane at the Gaiety Theatre. Image Ros Kavanagh

Brian Doherty as Mike Glavin, Grainne Good as Sive and Andrea Irvine as Mena in Druid’s production of Sive by John B Keane at the Gaiety Theatre. Image Ros Kavanagh

 

Sive
Gaiety Theatre, Dublin
****

Towards the end of John B Keane’s enduring drama from 1958, a perceptive Traveller raises a simple toast: “That we might never want!” Now, wouldn’t that be something? In the querulous Sive, wanting is not so easily satiated; it is the driving force of the play, the source of its both its rich comedy and its cruel tragedy, something never fully appeased.

You see it in the grasping conspiracy between a resentful woman and a craven matchmaker, ready to marry off her ‘illegitimate’ young niece to a lusty farmer who is roughly as old as Methuselah and not quite as attractive. It’s there in the desire between two young people to pursue love instead of stability, whose future is out of their hands. And it abounds in the advancing logic of a brashly materialistic nation: “There is money-making everywhere,” says the Traveller, Pats Bocock, part mystic, part reporter. “The face of the country is changing.” 

Isn’t it always? Last staged by Druid at the height of the boom, in 2003, and now revived during a staggeringly unequal economic recovery, Sive shows how much more there is to discover within it. Director Garry Hynes and designer Francis O’Connor collaborated on the previous production, shifting now from grubby realism to something more starkly lyrical, where the empty shelves of a kitchen dresser climb vertiginously high, while the home glows sinister against the embers of the hearth, and the landscape beyond - barely separated – is marked by a tree bent low by the wind.

Something of its stooped posture has made it into Thomasheen too, played by Tommy Tiernan as a wiry Mephistopheles in a skin-tight suit. Initially his coiling physicality, under the movement direction of David Bolger, seems a bit much, stepping across the stage like a cat burglar. But the play itself slinks between styles, from Boucicaultian melodrama to folktale to rural tragedy, easily accommodating it.

Tommy Tiernan as Thomasheen Sean Rua in Druid’s production of Sive by John B Keane at the Gaiety Theatre. Image Ros Kavanagh
Tommy Tiernan as Thomasheen Sean Rua in Druid’s production of Sive by John B Keane at the Gaiety Theatre. Image Ros Kavanagh

Tiernan’s sly performance emphasises the play’s lingering superstitions (where even a car’s headlights were once mistaken for the devil’s eyes). Enjoyably impish, he tortures Brian Doherty’s dutiful but passionless uncle, as though in a comedy roast, later wriggling like a salmon when celebrating the dubious virility of Bosco Hogan’s mildewed farmer. When Andrea Irvine’s solid Mena offers Sive a tantalising cake to help seal the deal, inching the indulgence towards her like a supplicant, the play becomes a delicious morality tale of sin and seduction.

Another of Hynes’s shrewd alterations is the unfussy transformation of Pats and Carthalawn, the chorus, from father and son to mother and daughter. Here they are played by a magnificently suspicious Marie Mullen and the sonorous musician Radie Peat, who make these social outsiders more resonant, spilling songs and curses, later allied with Barbara Brennan’s bluff Nanna to save Sive from improper male clutches. “Women must pay for all happiness,” Nanna sadly observes.

That’s true of Sive (Gráinne Good) herself, whose independence is whipped away here as steadily and as cruelly as her bicycle or her schoolbooks. The part is always more sacrificial than substantial, though, reduced finally to a symbol of the cost of desire. But within a sinfully entertaining and handsome production, it seems greedy to want more.

  • Until March 3rd