Happiness Then … – Bewley’s Café Theatre, Dublin

Reviewer: Claire Galligan

Writer: Elizabeth Moynihan

Director: Liam Halligan

Two sisters meet in the aftermath of their mother’s death. The play seeks to expose the many faces of grief and its impact on Francis and Bridget. Old grievances are unearthed. Painful experiences are shared. Bridget comments to Francis that she ‘lives life like a glorious meringue. However, Francis is facing the end of her marriage when she says ‘the man I married doesn’t exist anymore.’ Simultaneously Bridget is dealing with her own loss and the disappearance of her son from her life through drug abuse and homelessness.

The whole framework of the play is properly shaped and proportioned by Liam Halligan’s direction. The medium of film and television creates a telescopic lens so that we the audience can see minute changes in facial expression which tell all. Both Rachel Dowling as Bridget, and Sorcha Furlong as Francis show remarkable instances of this technique in their stage performance of the play. Both actors employ their consummate skill and experience gleaned from many years in television and film to engage the audience and draw us into their world; as if we the audience are viewing the sister’s meeting through the lens of camera. The dialogue is incisive and the pace moves relentlessly towards the denouement, as both women come to terms with their respective lives – connected by blood and birth yet distant.

Playwright Elizabeth Moynihan explores how complicated grief and bereavement and how its multi-layers can force us apart. Close relationships can be too painful to sustain after the death of a parent – particularly if the experiences in childhood are traumatic. Francis finds comfort in drinking heavily to mask her loneliness and pain, and is frequently reminded of her detrimental drinking pattern by her sister Bridget, who has reluctantly agreed to the meeting. Bridget is overwhelmed by fear of failure, and had high expectations of her son Fionn and husband Michael. Fiona criticises Bridget because she has driven away her only son and faces loneliness and isolation.

The staging of the play complements the exposition of these sensitive themes. Movement is minimal to heighten the importance of the dialogue and to focus our attention on the inner truth of the play. In this production both actors sit together at a café table throughout, and confront each other with acerbic and vitriolic retorts; blame and counter blame swing back and forth which serves to expose their disappointment with each other and where they now find themselves in their own lives. Fiona says to Bridget ‘we have been strangers for a long time.’

Costumes designed by Toni Bailey capture the sister’s characters beautifully. Fiona wears a sculpted red dress and Bridget wears a tailored jacket and trousers – both styles and choice of colours and fabric are harmonious within the ambience of a café atmosphere which is softly lit and designed by Eoin Lennon. The trajectory of the play is only interrupted when the sisters allude to the unseen characters who occupy the public space in the café, fearing that their raised voices may upset the clientele.

Ensemble teamwork of writing, direction, performance, and staging, makes this lunchtime at Bewley’s Café Theatre a worthwhile and rounded experience.

Runs Until February 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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