Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Other Regions

Drama at Inish
Abbey Theatre, Dublin
Review by Carla Cafolla

The Cast
Photo by Malcolm McGettigan
Memories often guard experiences gone unnoticed solely by the nature of their familiarity. Many Irish immigrants to America (myself included) felt isolated by the variances in traditions and activities of their new nation. Yet, once learned and internalized, integration usually followed. But as Irish good humor treads a very fine line between what Americans (and others) deem acceptable, true acclimatization rarely occurs. With a bleak and recent history of torment and starvation, Irish survival has depended on finding humor in dark and sometimes bizarre events, and this propensity can be rather horrifying to the uninitiated. So, for many of us, memories of instances of unrestrained mirth, regardless of the cause, become more precious as the opportunities wane.

In my experience, nowhere is this disparity in perception more obvious than in non-Irish directors' handling and interpretation of an Irish writer's play, so when the opportunity arose to see Drama at Inish (aka Is Life Worth Living?), directed by an Irishman, in Dublin's Abbey Theatre, I had to be there. Written by Lennox Robinson, who as playwright and manager from 1907 up to his death in 1958, made the Abbey Theatre his life, this much-loved favorite from the Irish canon was first performed at the Abbey Theatre in 1933.

Directed by Cal McCrystal, who updated the action to the 1960s, this comedy spotlights cheerfully, and with caustic wit, incidences of marital strife, domestic violence, the downfall of a government, suicide, and possible murder. It is, in its entirety, hilarious. McCrystal, well-known in both Ireland and England for his genius in breathing humor into even the most banal texts, enhances the original script with visual gags and slapstick comedy, adding a bonus, non-verbal stage arena in the form of happenings taking place outside the large bay windows.

The giddy production tells the story of the inhabitants of a small Irish seaside town, where John Twohig (a panicky Mark O'Regan), owner of both the local hotel and the Pavilion theatre, has, along with his wife Annie (effervescent Helen Norton), invited the De la Mare theatre company into their small community for a season. Hector De la Mare (beautifully understated by Nick Dunning) and his wife, co-star, and somewhat "drinky" Constance Constantia (Marion O'Dwyer) flamboyantly arrive to illuminate and enhance the apparently sluggish and culturally deprived minds of the residents. They intend to stir the souls and inflame passion in the men and women by performing plays by Strindberg, Ibsen and Tolstoy. The duo accomplish this so with so much success, their audiences take on the traits and behaviors of the characters they see portrayed. Soon, the sleepy town transforms into a quagmire of improbable ardor, and the behavior of the residents, unused to dealing with simmering passions, lusty or avaricious thoughts, soon attract the attention of not just the press, but also the law.

This production takes off and doesn't stop. Every character becomes larger than life, shamelessly and charmingly upstaging the other. A delightful, fast-paced farce, everything, from the enormous rambling drawing room with a tad of damp in the shape of slightly peeling wallpaper (the devil is in the details), to the extravagant and somewhat ridiculous ladies' clothing, is perfectly thought out and executed to fullest effect. To balance what could be a dated script, every actor delivers their lines with such flair and scene-stealing magic, there was non-stop laughter from the very appreciate audience at the performance I attended. In this production, even the smallest role becomes a rounded character. Eddie Twohig (a delightful Tommy Harris), a mamma's boy infatuated with the vibrant Christine (a terrific Breffni Holahan), Ian O'Reilly's woeful Michael, the inept Peter Hurley (Marcus Lamb), and every other performance creates theatre magic. It was so nice to see an Irish play performed with complete understanding of the author's dialogue, filled with all the humor and nuance intended.

Lennox Robinson's talent lay in the creation of realist dramas and social comedies where he, with gentle digs, forces us to acknowledge the changing social and political landscape of the time, using humor to defuse potential civil strife. He was, as he wrote in his autobiography "Curtain Up," an instant convert to the cultural nationalist project personified by Yeats' Cathleen ni Houlihan and Gregory's The Rising of the Moon. "The effect the plays had on me was magical," he wrote. "The world of the theatre ... opened to my eyes." Yeats' endorsement of Robinson's play The Clancy Name was resounding: "He is a serious intellect and may grow to be a great dramatist." But recurring bouts of depression and alcohol dependency stymied his potential. Additionally, his day-to-day involvement in the theatre business with his duties as producer took up much of his time and energy.

Nonetheless, Robinson, with his broad knowledge of societal echelons and divisions, left us small but powerful treasures; Drama at Inish, though a nod to pretentious theatrical fancies, differences between reality and illusion, and havoc rescued by a circus, it is nevertheless, exceptionally culturally astute. Robinson's somewhat byzantine frivolity regarding unwanted pregnancies, missing babies, sinister nephews, and romantic suicide pacts, still relevant and socially significant today, are treated in such a flippant and cavalier fashion as to belie the significance of its message. A message delivered at the Abbey with such aplomb, talent, and charisma, it had everyone laughing.

Drama at Inish runs through January 24, 2020, on the Abbey Stage at the Abbey Theatre, 26/27 Abbey Street Lower, North City, Dublin, Ireland. For tickets and information, visit

Cast: Helena: Grace Collender
Tom Mooney: Jim Cunningham
Hector De la Mare: Nick Dunning
Eddie Twohig: Tommy Harris
Christine Lambert: Breffni Holahan
Peter Hurley: Marcus Lamb
Lizzie Twohig: Aoibhinn McGinnity
William Slattery: Anthony Moriarty
Annie Twohig: Helen Norton
Constance Constantia: Marion O'Dwyer
John Twohig: Mark O'Regan
Michael: Ian O'Reilly
John Hegarty: Kevin Trainor
Set & Costume Design: Sarah Bacon
Lighting Design: Sinead McKenna
Sound Design: Carl Kennedy
Voice Director: Andrea Ainsworth
Choreographer: Eddie Kay
Casting: Maureen Hughes and Sarah Jones