It's always going to be interesting when the early work of an established dramatist is revived - or, in the case of 'Living Quarters' - given a belated U. K. premiere. As if, encountering an overlooked painting in a retrospective exhibition, both later themes and early influences stand out more clearly and boldly.
With Friel, we are unsurprisingly back in Ballybeg, his (necessarily) loosely imagined Donegal township and surroundings; this time not in the company of his teenaged 'Winners' or the
surveying soldiery of 'Translations', but with three sisters, their hearts
set not on Moscow (although Dublin is mentioned), but apparently intent on the
welcome of their father, lauded with hyperboles as a result of courage under
The forces surrounding Commandant Frank Butler (Ron Donnachie) at home
are considerable, while Stuart McGugan ('Sir') provides a firm hand in
propelling events to their conclusion. Although the influences on 'Living
Quarters' are paraded as clearly as the Irish tricolours decorating the
staircase of Michael Taylor's inventive set, Friel brings his considerable
powers to bear on a meditation on our ability (or inability) to re-tell our own story, elide
over what's not comfortable and somehow patch over the gaps in between. Bit like
doing history, really...
Friel's sensitivity to the past as a
perpetually unrecovered (and unrecoverable) country has made him one of the
most performed and admired of Ireland's current playwrights, speaking, it would
seem, both for and about a country in constant change which cannot completely
escape a past it fears to fully confront. The similar difficulties of other
communities make Friel both an eminently exportable commodity and spokesperson
of the perpetually regretful.
Regret washes around Commandant Butler's quarters as whiskey in the bottom of the glass of his friend Father Tom Carty (Gary Lilburn). Whether we are watching the Commandant's young second wife Anna (Katie McGuiness) squirm in guilt over her brief affair with his son, Ben (Ifan
Meredith), his daughter Helen (Irene Allan) bemoan her parent's opposition to
her doomed marriage, or Ben himself try despairingly to heal the breach
between himself and his father, regrets, stated or otherwise, strain and stain the
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the two characters
least directly involved in the events that unfold have the most resentments about their parts in it. Yet even in their selfishness, they remain the two characters truest to themselves
'Living Quarters' isn't so much 'vintage' Brian Friel as a fascinating examination of themes which have occupied dramatists from the days of Epidauros to the emergence of Twin Peaks and will always continue to do so.
Bill Dunlop, October 2007
Published on EdinburghGuide.com 2007