On Raftery’s Hill – Abbey Theatre, Dublin

Writer: Marina Carr

Director: Caitriona McLaughlin

Reviewer: Ciara L. Murphy

On Raftery’s Hill premiered to Irish and British audiences in the year 2000, and has been seldom produced since. In 2018, it makes its debut on the Abbey Theatre stage. The Abbey Theatre’s decision to stage Carr’s most controversial play is interestingly framed by the current discourse in Irish society around women’s place in society, rape-culture, and victim blaming. It fits the current discourse, and that is not a good thing but it contributes to a necessary conversation.

Red Raftery (Lorcan Cranitch) lives on his rotting hill in the depths of Ireland’s rural midlands with his daughters Dinah (Maeve Fitzgerald) and Sorrel (Zara Devlin), his son, Ded (Peter Coonan), and his mother Shalome (Marie Mullen). This family is plagued by secrets which are mired in brutality, incest, and violence. The weight of these secrets and their consequences are borne by the three generations of Raftery women.

Joanna Parker’s set, costume, and video design grounds this production. The set is a disjointed kitchen, it floats on the surface, creating a sense of the unreal. Its murky waters mirror the disjointed interactions of this family. There is irony in the transparent surfaces of this rural kitchen, a place where everything is left unsaid and no one from the outside can see the truth.

The cast is flawless, creating a solid framework for this performance. Cranitch’s Red is brutal and harsh but also displays moments of intense vulnerability. Devlin and Fitzgerald give fearless performances and the relationship between Sorrel and Dinah delivers some of the strongest moments of acting in the play. Mullen as Shalome provides most of the plays (much needed, at times) light relief.

This play boasts some of Carr’s best writing, but it is McLaughlin’s direction that demonstrates the full force of this story. McLaughlin makes some brave directorial choices, and this production takes no prisoners, illustrating the broad horror of this family’s life in an unflinching and un-sanitised way. The audience of On Raftery’s Hill must look at the full force of this family’s despair and bear witness to a history of shame, silence, and oppression that informs this work.

This production seems to strive to make visible the hidden. It acknowledges that there can be no more secrets, no more turning away from what is difficult in our society. This is a brave and timely piece of theatre which challenges us as audience members (and maybe even citizens) to take responsibility for what we have already seen and for what we know is there, barely hidden under the surface.

Runs until 12 May 2018 | Image: Contributed

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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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