IrelandReview

Children of the Sun – Abbey Theatre, Dublin

Reviewer: Elizabeth O’Gorman

Writer: Hilary Fannin after Maxim Gorky

Director: Lynn Parker

You won’t leave satisfied by neat resolutions to life’s dilemmas but you will leave thinking.

Children of the Sun centres on a dysfunctional household living in a rural area in an indeterminate past.

The play opens on a superb set by Sarah Bacon. She incorporates four separate spaces into a unified whole, and an eclectic assemblage of items conveying a sense of genteel mayhem with hints of impending disequilibrium. Hilary Fannin’s lyrical writing immerses the audience within an eccentric family with her superb word painting and laugh aloud one liners. Under Lynne Parker’s direction, the performances by each creative are flawless and Sorcha Ni Floinn’s costumes are well chosen to subtly reflect aspects of each character’s persona. The soundscape is subtle and continuous where the intrusive tick-tock of clocks underscores the verbal references to time. The lighting is adept, though glaring at times, harshly highlighting the allusions to war. Despite these positives the play has difficulty retaining the audience’s attention. There is too much dialogue and too little plot and little sense of a cohesive whole.

All the characters have had miserable childhoods. Fathers were ineffective and mothers absent via death or the asylum. The brother-sister relationships are not supportive. Men are either insensitive egoists or brutish beasts. Women are victims and unfulfilled without a male relationship. No one is happy.

Stuart Graham deftly portrays Pavel, the male head of the household, as a weak man immersed in quasi-scientific dabbling, lacking the skill to manage his research or his employees. He neglects Lisa, insightfully played by Rebecca O’Mara, his sister who is verging on insanity, and disregards his wife Elena, edgily performed by Aislinn McGuckian, who is in thrall to both Vagin (John Cronin), a photographer and to the local vet played by Brian Doherty. Yegor (Ian Toner) the wife beating labourer and Misha (Rowan Finken) the businessman, are the two other male characters. Both remain undeveloped caricatures functioning to accentuate women’s low standing in society and the evils of capitalism. The subsidiary female characters, Melania (Fiona Bell) and Lusha (Eavan Gaffney) are much stronger forces and enliven the stage with each appearance.

After this promising opening there follows a long, booze fuelled fest of the middle-aged intelligentsia talking pretentious rubbish which eventually leads to the overdue interval.

The post intermission section of the play seems tenuously linked to the first. A series of monologues focus on the male characters and echo phrases from the play’s first half. It becomes clear that this is not Gorky’s play but a recount of incidents from Gorky’s life unhappily merged with radio excerpts from significant moments in the 19th century. Reverberations of oppression, of human rights, of opposing economic systems, of war, of the inhumanity of humans and whether art should be a consolation or a challenge all arise briefly during this second half. Lisa is on stage throughout these final sections. Is she the visionary observer shining truth on events? There are too many unanswered questions. The play ends abruptly with the characters’ dilemmas unresolved. There have been too many characters and too many themes in too long a performance.

This reworking of Gorky’s play might succeed better as a novel. A new play dealing with questions on the nature of life, art, politics and society, penned by Fannin in her own inimitable style, would be a much more stimulating theatrical performance.

Go and be disquieted.

Runs UntilMay 11 2024.

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The Ireland team is currently under the editorship of Laura Marriott. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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