“There’s nothin’ besides land” asserts Xavier Cassidy, as he makes his final exit in Selina Cartmell’s timely revival of Marina Carr’s By The Bog of Cats. With property prices rising anew and construction work recommencing throughout the country, Bog proves as heartbreaking a portrayal of those left behind by Ireland’s economic boom as it did when it was first produced in the heyday of the Celtic Tiger.
Carr’s adaptation of the Medea myth centres on Hester Swane, a native of the titular bog. She has been abandoned by her mother and her husband and now faces losing her only child, Josie. Susan Lynch assumes the iconic role, and her performance is brought to you by Park and Bark Productions. Feet spread wide, unmoving, she rages at the injustices done to her. Although not unaffecting, Lynch’s Hester fails to be wild and unpredictable, merely being predictably wild. The exception to this is the tender scene Hester and Josie share in the third act. This finally allows a moment to empathise with Hester. However, the shouting Hester of other scenes elicits only sympathy for her situation – a far less moving emotion.
The rest of the unusually large cast is rounded out by solid performances, with a few stand-outs. Marion O’Dwyer gives a hilarious comic turn as a social-climbing Mrs Kilbride, although the delivery of her wedding toast is slightly overcooked. Bríd Ní Neachtain teeters dangerously between comedy and tragedy as a “Fab at Sixty” Catwoman, and, along with O’Dwyer, manages best with Carr’s tricky dialect. Jane Brennan, as always, puts in a convincing performance as Monica Murray. Credit must also be given to Bradley Cooper-look-alike Barry John-O’Connor (as Carthage Kilbride) for injecting grit into a usually spineless character.
The production opens with an AV sequence (designed by Killian Waters) which ingeniously posits the play as a sensationalistic true crime documentary. This interpretation is complimented nicely by a trailer park flavoured sound design by Isobel Waller-Bridge. However, the AV element is inexplicably dropped after intermission. Thereafter, the backdrop merely acts as an oversized mood ring, which is atmospheric, if uninspired.
Monica Frawley’s bog is at once reminiscent of a desert and a tundra. Several half submerged objects are visible, and by the end of the play, the bog will claim a human body as well. However, on occasion, the vast expanse of bog seems overly wide, leaving an awkwardly long distance to travel for actors exiting. Mrs Kilbride’s perfectly ridiculous wedding outfit is the highlight of Frawley’s costumes. However, her decision to dress Carthage and the Catwoman in white at the wedding diminishes the visual impact of Carr’s insightful coup de théâtre.
Despite certain uneven elements, the strength of the material ensures the production remains engaging throughout, and the climactic scene remains undeniably powerful (despite the intrusion of a Mephistolean and, admittedly, baffling Ghost Fancier). Selina Cartmell’s revival has confirmed By The Bog of Cats as a major work in the Irish dramatic canon. Carr’s tale of land and love remains a visceral commentary on the price of progress.