Welcome to a world where cash flow problems are paramount. A world where danger and violence lurk outside the home. Where people are consumed by grief and spirits are caught between this world and the next. One woman seems able to make contact with them, especially through the power of music.
Rural Ireland 1822. Lady Madeleine Lambroke (Whingers’ treasure Fenella Woolgar) is facing financial ruin. She’s struggling to keep her estate going (no wonder her walls are in a state, there’s no roof on her house) but of course she still has staff (penury is relative) although they haven’t been paid for a year. But, what’s this? It looks as if her problems will be solved by pimping her daughter Hanna (Emily Taaffe) to a rich Marquis in England. If only she had a cherry orchard and an axe.
Poor Lady Lambroke. Her situation is made worse by a strangely camp, bumptious and increasingly annoying defrocked Reverend (Jim Norton) who will accompany Hanna to this nuptial salvation, but not before he’s dabbled in the psychic doings of the Lady’s house, exerted his interest in Hanna’s spiritual powers and stared enigmatically into the large mirror which hangs above the mantlepiece.
In his tow is Charles Audelle (Adrian Schiller), a philosopher. Could his “sordid interior escapades” (a marvellous phrase that will no doubt pass into Standard Whingers Vernacular) be the result of his propensity to laudunum in brandy, a taste he is willing to share with Hanna? The Whingers will be adding it to their list of “must-try” cocktails.
Then there’s Grandie (Ursula Jones), Lady L’s eerily silent (initially) grandmother who takes a soft toy on a ribbon wherever she goes. So far so potentially spooky.
Neil Austin’s lighting transports us from crepscular candlelight to cold bright dawns in Rae Smith’s decaying grand sitting room and they are by far the best things about the production. Unfortunately there’s only so much atmosphere one can take. Andrew couldn’t take it. He wasn’t hovering between two worlds at all. Or two Acts come to that. “All of you have a shared capacity to apprehend the beyond” apparently. There was to be no beyond for Andrew and no apprehending him. He was off.
So what did Andrew miss? A rather chillingly realised seance, (SPOILER ALERT) a ghost (END OF SPOILER ALERT), someone spilling some hot punch (clearly cold punch, it went everywhere, including splashing the front row – you can imagine the note to the stagehands “put half as much liquid in next time”), a tedious Oirish ballad (what is it about Irish writers that feel the need to inflict them on their audiences?), an awful lot more chat from characters you really didn’t give a turf about, more laudanum, a gun waved around menacingly by the unpaid estate manager Fingal (an excellent Peter McDonald) and some more significant staring into the mirror.
The curtain eventually provided spiritual relief by descending three hours after it first rose (Disclosure. This was the first preview it may speed up). McPherson needs to exercise some serious shearing but he also directs so what are the chances? Should writers be allowed to direct their own work? Discuss. Think Steven Poliakoff’s My City. Case closed.
It this play proves anything at all, it’s that there are truths in myths and legends. The Veil has clearly kissed the Blarney stone.