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The Tinker's Wedding and In the Shadow of the Glen
Pentameters Theatre
10th May 2015


Fiona McGahren

Photography provided by Fellaheen Films

The undeniably eccentric character of Pentameters Theatre, all pictures and bric-a-brac, is a delightful and oddly fitting venue for this production - a double bill of two short plays telling tales of 20th century Ireland. It's instantly charming, a winking seanchai ready to spin you a yarn, pleasant and welcoming.

Both plays are from John Millington Synge and centre around the tough lives of the Irish peasantry. The first, The Tinker's Wedding, tells the story of Sarah Casey (Victoria Otter) and her attempt to wed the reluctant Michael Byrne (Shane Mitchell), a plan which goes awry when Michael's drunk mother Mary (Fiona McGahren) steals the tin can which had been promised to the Priest (Eden Ford) in exchange for wedding the couple.

This is a feminist piece at heart and the strong females dominate the men around them, something which was controversial back in Synge's day. While Sarah's goal of marriage is highly traditional, the way in which she overpowers the men to achieve it is less so. She does not meekly wait for her Prince Charming to propose - oh no, she's the one calling the shots. Unfortunately for her though, Michael's mother is equally strong-willed. Her own goal for the night - to satisfy her love for drink - just so happens to clash with Miss Casey's plans. Much of the drama is driven by the conflict between these two women, with some dagger-like stares thrown in for good measure. Nevertheless, the two ladies somehow manage to join forces in the finale, much to the detriment of the Priest. You would almost feel sorry for the guy if he hadn't been such a self-serving and miserable git at the start (unholy behaviour for a man of God of course and a highly controversial representation back in 1900-and-something Ireland). The longer of the two-header, the plot can move slowly in places, but the leading ladies give compelling and energetic performances that remain engaging even when all else seems to be lagging.

But it is the shorter, more subdued, In the Shadow of the Glen that is the superior of the duo. Widow Nora (McGahren) invites a kindly tramp (Ford) into her house as she mourns her recently deceased husband Dan (Mitchell), who reveals himself to be only faking death upon catching another man (Otter) proposing to his wife. Balancing the comic (the tramp's reaction to finding Dan is alive) with the serious (Nora's loneliness), director John Dunne makes excellent use of both dramatic stillness and lively action to keep the audience engaged through the entirety of the short run-time. Unlike Wedding, Shadow not only engages the audience in the plot but spends more time developing the lead characters, allowing us to sympathise - no small feat for something lasting only half an hour. The venue seems particularly appropriate as, much like the theatre with its curious clutter, the characters reveal other hidden stories through their tales, adding another layer of interest. While this second work provides something quite different to the first, both are united in their use of strong female leads. Despite her isolated and difficult life, Nora has no problem making up her own mind and telling the men what's what. Good on her!

Staging a double-bill always runs the risk of one play overshadowing the other, as is the case here. Despite this, the production is successful, and the theatre a wonderful environment for experiencing it in. Though the shock that would have accompanied both these plays at the time of their writing is lost on modern audiences, those same audiences are captivated in part by bringing out the humour of the scripts (the inept priest in Tinker provides a number of laugh-out-loud moments) alongside their more serious drama. So if you're up for the craic, Pentameters has a couple of tales to tell.

The Tinker's Wedding and In the Shadow of the Glen opened on 5th May and runs until 24th May 2015 at Pentameters Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Hampstead (Northern)

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