Katie Roche – Abbey Theatre, Dublin

Writer: Teresa Deevy

Director: Caroline Byrne

Reviewer: Ciara L. Murphy


It has been a long time since Teresa Deevy’s work has graced the stage of the national theatre, and Katie Roche is a fitting return to form.

According to the programme note, this is a play about ‘survival’. This is appropriate when one considers that Deevy’s work has struggled to survive the purging of women from the canon of Irish theatre. It is refreshing, and exciting, to have one of Ireland’s most successful dramatic exports back where she first found success almost ninety years ago.

Katie Roche explores the familiar trope of Irish womanhood, and all that that entails, but it is told with a freshness and an intuitiveness that is both relevant and necessary. Katie Roche, played by Caoilfhionn Dunne, is a complicated woman with a complicated past. Marked by the ‘stain’ of her mother’s unmarried status when she was born, she has no name of her own and only has what others have deigned to give her.

She spends her adult life, living and serving the Gregg family. When Stanislaus Gregg (Sean Campion) returns to his home town with the intent of making Katie his wife, Katie’s frenetic energy is in danger of being extinguished. There is an air of Pygmalion here, but instead of being instructive in how to ‘behave properly’, it instead highlights the disparity of fairness across both class and gender.

The set, expertly designed and realised by Joanna Scotcher, hints at something ill-omened. In the backdrop is an angular glass panel which hangs, like a guillotine, acting as a constant threat.

Deevy writes her women well. Amelia (Stan’s sister and the lady of the house) is played with subtlety by Siobhan McSweeney who perfects the timid, yet intuitive woman. Roche herself is a vital source of energy and drama and Dunne captures the essence of this character with capable skill. The men in this play are less well formed. They function, in the main, to provide the audience with a sense of where the real character flaws really lie. However, it is ultimately they who have the control.

Despite the various relationships fostered in this piece the audience is gifted the most beautiful and tender moment by Katie and Amelia. This unlikely friendship has grown up quietly amid the chaos, confusion, and judgement of their lives. As they part, Amelia urges Katie to ‘be brave’, the only thing left when you have lost control of your own fate.

Katie Roche is an accomplished piece of theatre and director Caroline Byrne has succeeded in giving it new life in a contemporary setting.

Runs until 26 September 2017 | Image: Contributed

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