|Druid's production of Stuart Carolan's Empress of India has been acclaimed as a 'tour-de-force' (The Irish Examiner); 'one of Druid's most accomplished productions ever' (The Irish Independent); 'Carolan's play connects like a Tom Murphy' (The Sunday Tribune), 'powerful and moving...a beautiful play with great performances' The Connacht Tribune) and 'riveting (The Galway Advertiser). The production opened at the Abbey Theatre on Wednesday 4th October for a two week run as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival (Dublin Theatre Festival Box Office Tel: 01 6778899 www.dublintheatrefestival.com|
Directed by Garry Hynes, Empress of India is presented by arrangement with Galway Arts Festival - the play was originally commissioned by the Festival and Rose Parkinson - and this production features Sean Mc Ginley in his first theatre appearance in more than five years. McGinley, a member of the founding Druid company of actors, joins the new Druid acting ensemble with actors of a new generation including Sarah-Jane Drummey, Aaron Monaghan, Tadhg Murphy, Catherine Walsh and Sarah Greene.
With Empress of India, Stuart Carolan follows his first play, Defender of the Faith, which premiered at the Peacock, Dublin in 2004 and which was a joint winner of the George Devine Award in 2005.
Druid's appearance at the Abbey with Empress of India is the company's first visit to the venue since Druid's 1981 run at the Peacock with An Island Protected by A Bridge of Glass (a play written and directed by Garry Hynes and the cast of which included Sean Mc Ginley).
Empress of India is a black, dark comedy where the profane, the comic and the anguished combine to shattering effect - to ask uneasy questions about faith, belief and abandonment. This stunning new play introduces us to the world of Seamus Lamb, celebrated Irish Hollywood actor, who watched his wife die and, abandoned to grief, took no further part in the lives of Matty, Martin and Kate, their children. Martin's now a journalist in Dublin. Matty's in New York. Kate has headed for London. Seamus waits on the film role that will restore him to fame, but time has other ideas...
This production is not suitable for children
REVIEWS OF EMPRESS OF INDIA
The Irish Independent
A profound and perfect study of grief, love and loss
Thursday September 14th 2006
STUART Carolan's Empress of India premiered in Galway's Town Hall Theatre, and now comes to the Abbey as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival.
A study of grief, love and loss, the Empress of India will be regarded as one of Druid's most accomplished productions. Perfect in almost every respect, it represents the full circle of this company's achievement.
It's a new play by a young Irish writer, that presents an Ireland aware of its place in the wider world but remembering where it came from. It is in the hands of a director who knows what that means, and a cast that balances the assured excellence of Druid veteran Sean McGinley with the equally assured younger Druid generation. It is profound.
Every aspect of this production is faultless - Francis O'Connor's design, Sam Jackson's original score and the technical skills of Davy Cunningham, John Leonard, Evita Galanou, Ueli Nuesch and Thomas Wollenberger.
The imaginations, the performances, the vision of the writer, and the confidence of the director allow the audience to make a journey into the territory of the human heart.
McGinley is extraordinary in his return to the stage as Seamus, the demented father and faded screen star, Aaron Monaghan is utterly superb as his taut and tormented son Martin. Tadhg Murphy perfectly counterpoints this in his gentle portrayal of Matty. With Catherine Walsh, Sarah Jane Drummey and Sarah Green this is a tour de force for Druid.
(c) Irish Independent
The Irish Examiner
Stuart Carolan¹s debut play Defender of the Faith marked him out as an important voice in Irish theatre. His second play, Empress of India will boost that reputation. It is a wonderful work and, for its lead actor, the tough but rewarding role of a lifetime.
Druid's production, under the magnificent direction of Garry Hynes does the writer a wonderful service.
In the opening scene, McGinley, playing elderly actor Séamus Lamb, moves regally about the stage looking like a cross between King Lear and Prospero, preparing for what he describes as his latest role.
At the back of the stage, 24 mirrors, all separate, but fitted together in a massive tilted frame create extraordinary reflections, playing with images and light. It is an unforgettable moment. Séamus is not going to be performing however. Minded by Nursey his days are a mix of ravings and lucidity while his nights are haunted by ghosts.
His adult children, Martin Matty and Kate are damaged by their father¹s neglect, apparently the result of his grief following his wife¹s death a decade earlier.
But that loss is only the tip of his iceberg. His fear of expressing love goes far deeper and while his wife¹s love broke through his dread, her death sent him back into his shell. His son Martin visits Séamus to bring him bad news about the actor¹s daughter Kate. Séamus¹s third child Matty is living in New York working on Wall Street, according to his father. The reality is different.
The play with its extraordinary, episodic structure, moves from sickroom, to London, to New York and other places inbetween, as the characters explore relationships, love, loss, the the need to believe in an afterlife, the futility of faith and more. Projections, lighting and music are all used beautifully to heighten the mood. Carolan¹s writing is lyrical, crude, profane and in places, very funny, but always deeply moving. The only jarring moment is towards the end, when Martin commits an act that seems unnecessary and pointless in terms of the plot. But this is a beautiful play, with great performances, especially from Seán McGinley, whose fluid movements and emotional range simply amaze.
Town Hall Theatre Galway, until September 23
Dublin Theatre Festival (Abbey Theatre) Oct 3-14
The Galway Advertiser
Charlie Mc Bride
Playwright Stuart Carolan is not afraid of large themes; religion, grief, love, relations between the sexes and between fathers and sons, all figure prominently in Empress of India which received its world premiere from Druid at the Town Hall on Tuesday night. It is a brave, truthful, provocative, deeply moving and cathartic play which is given a rivetting production by Garry Hynes and her gifted company.
Francis O'Connor's ingenious design was dominated by a huge mirrored frame tilting forward from the rear wall of the set. Its angled positioning afforded the audience a thrilling dual vision of the action -the conventional view from the auditorium seats with a simultaneous birds-eye perspective of the actors. There is also a striking use of projections throughout the piece, devised by Thomas Wollenberger.
The play lays bare the grief and anguish caused by the loss of a loved one -whether that be spouse or sibling. 9 years after the death of his wife, Seamus Lamb is still utterly bereft; meanwhile his sons Martin and Matty desperately await news of their sister who has gone missing in London.
The theme of religious belief also looms large in the play, with both Seamus and Martin remonstrating with an absent God (or, in Martin's case, the Virgin Mary). The play powerfully engages with the question of faith, and the likelihood that there is nothing beyond this life. It is equally compelling in its portrayal of the basic human need for love, and our occasional fallibility in not being able to offer it where it is needed from us.
If all this may seem like heavy going, it should be mentioned there is also a strong vein of robust black humour running throughout the play. But ultimately, Empress of India offers a profound meditation on love and loss, faith and doubt, tradition and modernity.
Sean McGinley delivers a towering performance as Seamus Lamb while Aaron Monaghan is outstanding as his son Martin. Tadhg Murphy, as Matty, Sarah Jane Drummy, as Martin's girlfriend Maria, and Catherine Walsh as Nursey also excel. Garry Hynes's direction is impeccable. The production is a tour-de-force.
Playwright Stuart Carolan follows up his acclaimed first play Defender of the Faith with a difficult, ambitious, and very different piece of work, which proves not just his worth as a writer, but also indicates that is one of those rare beasts who can move across worlds and themes with relative ease.
Although there are instant similarities with his debut work - the play is again set within the claustrophobic confines of the dysfunctional relationship of a father and his two sons, and again the mother is a pivotal but absent figure - while Defender was a linear, naturalistic narrative, placed against the backdrop of the Northern troubles, this play is a metaphysical meditation on faith, hope, loss, on the nature of life itself.
These are big themes, and the play's concerns are universal ones. However, it is also determinedly relevant within an Irish context, particularly now, and its story, that of the disillusionment of three adults who recognise that the prayers of their childhood will no longer protect them from the heartbreak of life, mirrors the disillusionment of a society which has realised that the regular attendance of Mass won't necessarily protect it from pain, anguish, and almost unspeakable horror.
The play, with its many layers - in its recounting of a former actor who describes himself as nothing but a 'make-believe man', Carolan also appears to be questioning the role of theatre in contemporary society - reminds one of a Friel or a Murphy, and it is very much in that tradition. Indeed, if the play has a predecessor, it could be said to be Tom Murphy's The Sanctuary Lamp, which interrogated the notion that organised religion has failed people, and that we must look for our own solutions to the problems of life.
Although Carolan's play is not as complete or as successful as that particular work, it is more than valid at this time. It is also, in many ways, the sort of play many of us who love the theatre have been crying out for a contemporary Irish playwright to write, because, like The Sanctuary Lamp, and other Murphy works such as The Gigli Concert and Bailegangaire, there is the sense of a writer laying himself bare, and telling the truth of life as he sees it. Because of this, Carolan makes a vital connection.
That said: this is not a perfect play. It wanes in the second act, and the language has a tendency to become overwrought. Nonetheless, Carolan has placed his faith in the master of emotional restraint, director Garry Hynes, and she and her dream team of Sean McGinley, Aaron Monaghan, Tadgh Murphy, Catherine Walsh and Sarah Jane Drummey (along with Sarah Greene), paper superbly over these cracks. And while Hynes makes far more use of new media technology than she has done in the past, her primary focus remains on finding the depth in the performances, and in the dark comedy of Carolan's writing, to drive the play forward.