In the Middle of the Fields review: A timeless tale with a #MeToo edge

Premiere staging of Mary Lavin’s story of grief and vulnerability strikes just right note

In the Middle of the Fields
★★★★
West Wall Walkway, Kilmallock

Timing is everything and what better time to explore the themes of isolation, grief and loss than after a period of collective trauma such as we have all experienced in this recent pandemic.

Being back in a theatre again felt both poignant and a little surreal, especially as the theatre was an open-sided tent in a field in Kilmallock, Co Limerick, but it was a perfectly apposite setting, with a soft summer breeze blowing and horses grazing happily nearby.

This exquisite world premiere staging of writer Mary Lavin's 1967 short story by director Joan Sheehy and Geoff Gould's Blood In The Alley Theatre Company finds its feet with calm assurance in the shadow of the #MeToo movement, confronting as it does timeless questions about what is appropriate behaviour and who holds the power in any situation between a man and a woman. Vera (Kathy Rose O'Brien) is a young widow with small children living alone on a farm, she needs some help with the land and perhaps with more than that, which is what brings her married neighbour Bartley Crossen (Seamus Moran) to her door on the recommendation of trusted farm hand Ned (Mark O'Regan). There is a gentle undercurrent between O'Brien and Moran by day, he is the contractor and she owns the land but the temperature changes and the ground shifts when he calls to her farmhouse in the dark of night and everything that is then said or unsaid between them has a deeply unsettling tension. O'Brien has all the vulnerability of a woman who finds herself alone in her prime and perhaps craves for something more and Moran brings an unapologetic sense of what that more could be, with just enough of an edge to unsettle. Balance is everything in the mood of this story coming as it does from a very different period in terms of what was considered acceptable and yet it seems that nothing has changed. On the surface it could be said that there is very little harm perhaps in a man asking a woman "Are you never lonely at all?" or " what about a little kiss?" but is never ever that simple. Tone here is pivotal and in directing, Sheehy remains utterly steadfast to the disconcerting twists and turns that Lavin orchestrates between Vera and Crossen leaving the audience to draw their own conclusions.One of the great joys in this assured production is it asks questions but leaves space for a myriad of possible answers. Into that space comes the original music of Tom Lane performed by the accordionist Dermot Dunne to perfectly underscore the many shifting emotional moods. Subtly lit by Paul Keogan with movement directed by Colin Dunne and costumes by Olivia Monaghan this is a timeless story about loss, not just the painful loss of a loved one but the often unspoken grief that results from the loss of passion and desire. An absolute treat.

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Until July 11th. limetreetheatre.ie