Theatre review: The Country Girls at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin

Theatre review: The Country Girls at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin

Edna O’Brien’s The Country Girls lives in the public imagination foremost as one of those banned and burned books, testament to post-independence Ireland’s absurd prudishness, hypocrisy and philistinism. 

This is unfair. It’s a fine book about adolescence, worthy of consideration alongside The Catcher in the Rye, The Bell Jar, and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

Joyce’s autobiographical novel casts a particularly long shadow over O’Brien’s work, but not in a way that diminishes it. O’Brien captures a time and a place superbly and, in Cait, she creates a mixture of fading innocence, intelligence and wry observational skills.

This last quality is what makes the book a pleasure to read, as we witness Cait’s evolving worldview. It’s also the most difficult to transmit to stage, and so it proves with the Abbey’s revival of O’Brien’s own adaptation.

The overriding sense is of skimming at the surface, of failing to get to the heart of the book.

That surface is vibrant at least — full of movement, dance and song under Graham McClaren’s direction and Vicki Manderson’s choreography. Francis O’Connor’s set is literally a blank page, curling at the edge upstage, with elements of scenery raised and lowered as needed to furnish bedsit, convent or homestead.

Newcomer Grace Collender plays Kate with a chirpiness that works initially, but proves too one-dimensional. Her scenes with Mr Gentlemen (Steven McCarthy), her would-be older, married, beau, lack the sexual charge found in the original material. Lola Petticrew, on the other hand, plays brattish best friend Baba with relish.

Overall, a sense of safe and misplaced sentimentality pervades the production. The darker implications of O’Brien’s clear-eyed depiction of nascent womanhood, its serious burdens and vulnerabilities, is curiously downplayed.

For that, fans will have to return to the book.

- Until April 6. Touring: Cork Opera House, April 16-20; Town Hall Theatre, Galway, April 23-27; Lime Tree Theatre, Limerick, April 30-May 4

More on this topic

A Question of Taste: Timmy CreedA Question of Taste: Timmy Creed

Review: Irish dubbing of Salo not an enjoyable experience. But that's precisely the pointReview: Irish dubbing of Salo not an enjoyable experience. But that's precisely the point

Marina Carr's take on Hecuba turns Greek account of the Trojan War on its headMarina Carr's take on Hecuba turns Greek account of the Trojan War on its head

Choreographer impresses once again at Dublin Theatre Festival following success of Loch na hEalaChoreographer impresses once again at Dublin Theatre Festival following success of Loch na hEala

More in this Section

As Ryanair launches flights to Armenia, here’s why it deserves to be your next holiday destinationAs Ryanair launches flights to Armenia, here’s why it deserves to be your next holiday destination

Live Music Review: Jools Holland and his Rhythm & Blues OrchestraLive Music Review: Jools Holland and his Rhythm & Blues Orchestra

Are we actually going to end up as a cashless society?Are we actually going to end up as a cashless society?

Leopard print and sequins to the fore at inaugural #IEStyleLive eventLeopard print and sequins to the fore at inaugural #IEStyleLive event


Latest Showbiz

The actor has said he was verbally abused.EastEnders star Zack Morris: I was called N-word

Several fans posted video of the fall and Gaga’s return to the stage on social media.Lady Gaga falls off stage while dancing with fan

The Surjury will see participants pitching ideas for their dream surgeries to convince a jury of peers and experts.Caroline Flack defends new surgery show against criticism from Jameela Jamil

The actor will have held the role longer than any of his predecessors.Daniel Craig to become longest-serving James Bond

More From The Irish Examiner