The Abbey Theatre’s touring production of John B Keane’s powerful play is a mixture of farce, pathos and tragedy. Set in North Kerry in the 1950s, Sive was the Listowel playwright’s breakthrough work, heralding a new voice in Irish theatre with its use of the vernacular and its probing of society’s dark underbelly. Its performance a sold-out Everman underlined how the tale still has relevance today.
Greed, small mindedness and misogyny are at the heart of this drama in which Sive, a beautiful 18-year-old illegitimate girl is matched with an old man. Instead of the girl coming to the marriage with a dowry, the elderly Seán Dóta (Derry Power) is offering Sive’s uncle and his wife £200 in a deal that is to be brokered by the local matchmaker, Thomasheen Seán Rua. The odious matchmaker, played by Cork actor Simon O’Gorman in a totally over-the-top manner, also stands to gain from the match.
O’Gorman steals the show, portraying an ignorant man, giddy at the prospect of a pay-out for Sive. Tellingly, he is unable to read the crucial intercepted letter from Sive’s love interest, Liam Scuab, to her. As Thomasheen declares, he had no time for schooling as a boy.
Sive, on the other hand, is being educated, at the request of her late mother. But Sive’s aunt through marriage, Mena, played with venom by Dee Molloy, has no respect for learning.
Ballincollig actress Róisín O’Neill plays the role of Sive. There is a huge transition from the innocent poetry-reading school girl to the despairing bride-to-be, trussed up in finery but utterly aghast at the prospect of marriage to a man old enough to be her grandfather. Seán Dóta’s pathetic recitation of doggerel emphasises the vast chasm between him and Sive.
Sive’s grandmother and two tinkers are on the girl’s side. The tinkers are like a mini Greek chorus, commenting on the action in this impressive production, directed by Conall Morrison.
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