Writer: Edna O’Brien
Adaption: Edna O’Brien
Director: Graham McLaren
Reviewer: Ciara L. Murphy
“He came home.”
Those three words change Kate’s life forever. Kate (Grace Collender) and Baba (Lola Pettigrew) are about to embark on the adventure of their lives. Heading for St. Enda’s convent school, these two teenage girls confront their own sexuality, the limits and challenges of female friendship, and the astounding disappointment of tenuous romantic relationships.
Originally published by Edna O’Brien in 1960, this dramatic adaption breathes new life into O’Brien’s seminal and challenging work. What is immediately striking is Francis O’Connor’s modernist set design which is at immediate odds with the rural Irish settings of the 1950s that audiences are accustomed to. O’Connor’s set places The Country Girls in a timeless setting, facilitating a story that is universal.
The accumulative nature of the set draws the audience in, visually representing the weight of Kate’s history. A history that is always hanging over her. The sound and lighting, designed by Matt Padden and Sinéad Wallace respectively, accentuates this abstract tone and creates a sense of the eerie and the expectant.
The ensemble delivers strong performances with Pettigrew’s petulant Baba particularly worthy of note. Some of McLaren’s directorial choices fail to land in the group pieces. A group rendition of ‘Take Her Up to Monto’ jars and seems a bit kitsch. Despite this, the highly stylised production hits most of its marks.
The beauty of O’Brien’s original novel lies in the intimacy between the reader and the story. This dynamic is mirrored expertly in this dramatic adaption. The audience is pulled through moments of intense drama and emotional tension. The piece carries itself effortlessly straight through its almost two-hour duration.
The finale is an inspiring and cathartic moment of female agency and self-determination. A satisfying and poignant finish to a beautifully reconstructed Irish classic.
Runs until 6 April 2019 at the Abbey Theatre and on tour across Ireland until 4 May 2019 | Image: Ros Kavanagh