I’ll Be The Devil – March 2008

2/10

By Leo Butler

Directed by Ramin Gray

Company: RSC

Venue: Tricycle Theatre

Date: Wednesday 5th March 2008

I’ve enjoyed a number of adaptations and works based on Shakespeare’s plays, but today’s effort, covering the rarely humorous topic of the British occupation of Ireland in the eighteenth century, was a particularly dreary affair, with over-long scenes and some ferociously authentic Irish accents that made large chunks of it unintelligible to me. Loosely based on The Tempest, so loosely that the original had vanished over the horizon, this play was meant to show us….what? From the opening scene with a blinded Dermot hanging on the stocks like an Irish Christ, I was completely befuddled by the gloom, the impenetrable dialogue, and the uninteresting characters. Bit of a problem, then.

Fortunately, the performance only ran for an hour and three quarters, so I didn’t have to wait too long to get back out in the fresh air. The other plus points were: it was our first time at the Tricycle, and it’s a nice little theatre, so we’ll enjoy going again, and maybe not just for RSC productions. The scene with the colonel deciding on a suitable punishment for Lieutenant Coyle, was good, and got across more about English attitudes to the Irish than the whole of the rest of the play. Actually, it had to, as there weren’t any other English characters around.

David Toole, playing a pot-boy, was amazing. Without legs, he was still able to move easily and gracefully around the room, and I found I was watching him most of the time during the tavern scene. Derbhle Crotty as the witch-figure, Maryanne, was the most clearly defined character, and although her scene with Lieutenant Coyle went on far too long, there were some interesting possibilities there. He’s a Catholic, pretending to be Protestant, who’s taken on his executed brother’s family, and given the widow a couple of children to keep her company. Now he has to pretend they’re not connected to him to avoid being discovered, but that doesn’t work, and he’s treated to some barbaric behaviour as a result. This comes from his fellow Irishmen, all former Catholics themselves.

It’s an unpleasant play in many ways, and while the violence and language aren’t so much of a problem for me (I did look away once or twice), I didn’t care for the boredom and lack of involvement. I don’t know if the playwright is Irish or not, but at times this seemed to be a fake Irish play, with caricatures rather than characters. Given that it’s inspired by The Tempest, maybe that’s the intention, but it didn’t help me to relate to the performance at all. Better luck next time.

© 2008 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

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