Review: Molly Sweeney

Abigail Graham’s refreshing production looks anew upon Friel’s richly layered play

Dorothy Duffy as Molly: draws us inside her mind

Molly Sweeney
Lyric Theatre, Belfast
****


Seeing and understanding are different experiences. With tenderness and humanity, Brian Friel argues that, if faced with a choice between the two, you should be careful what you wish for.

His eponymous heroine, Molly Sweeney, blind since the age of 10 months, has acquired an intimate, vivid understanding of the world around her through childhood walks around a walled garden with her father, a judge hemmed in by alcohol and a neurotic wife.

Independent and happy, at the age of 37 Molly is talked into undergoing an operation that might restore her sight. After all, what does she have to lose? But is this perilous venture intended for her benefit or to satisfy the vicarious longings of her ebullient, self-educated husband, Frank, and Paddy Rice, a hard-drinking ophthalmologist seizing the chance to rescue a tarnished reputation?

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Abigail Graham's refreshing production looks anew upon this richly layered play, which explores concepts of self-exile and life on a borderline between fantasy and reality. Far removed from the brilliant, dense gravitas of Faith Healer , with which it is often compared, three interlocking monologues are given space to sing, as individual stories are progressed then seamlessly continued.

The space is dominated by a bare tree and a wooden swing, both put to inventive use in conveying abstract emotions of release, refuge and freedom. As luminous-faced Molly, Dorothy Duffy's childlike delivery may lack a little shade and variety, but through Friel's glorious word pictures she draws us deep inside her inquiring mind. Ruairi Conaghan brings sardonic humour and a touch of desperation to Frank, a bore whose many mad business ventures have come to nothing. The bar is raised to full height by Frankie McCafferty's riveting, crumpled performance as Rice, a cheated husband and failed surgeon, whose egotistical actions have condemned Molly to a state of permanent blind sight, psychologically adrift, seeing nothing but still understanding so much.

Jane Coyle

Jane Coyle is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in culture