Rona Munro’s 1991 text walks us through West Belfast in the palpable aftermath of the Troubles. Distant bombs and gunshots form the backdrop for this slice of life story following four women through personal and domestic trauma.
Director Bobby Brook honours this sharply funny and moving account with little aesthetic distraction. A straightforward kitchen set provides a comfortable place for the women to nest and harbour their regrets, resentments and commitments. Widow Marie (Sarah Kempton), convict’s wife Cassie (Alice Imelda) and devoted mother Nora (Christine Entwisle) are keeping on keeping on.
“Mummy’s heart is made of steel. She had to grow it that way.”
True to the script, this production fits comfortably among its wartime school study pieces. A bustling first half showcases the women in their comfort zone, in moments of quiet wishing and fond contemplation, and in the lonely spotlight of their exposed wreckage. Irish fire, blood and tenderness sing in their wit and their tightly-knit community.
The second half gives way to much more direct revelations foreseeable from the start. Friendship, trust and affection come under the same strain they have lost their men to, and the conversation and events take a turn only possible at 4am on a Saturday night after seven gin-and-limes and no dinner.
“There’s something wrong with this girl’s heart.”
Beautiful, forthright nihilist Cassie dissolves into a disappointed, disappointing runaway. The quiet triumph Nora has taken in the advantage of her age-cloaked mischief unravels when her maternal integrity is put on trial. The women begin to blame each other for their losses and hold up their memories of the men in reverence and glory. It is a heartbreaking betrayal of the sentiment that We Can Do It.
Only the wild destruction crashing into Cassie’s home in the form of Deirdre (Lydea Perkins) seems set to remind Marie of the hope and purpose she needs to keep going.
All four women deliver incredible performances so sensitive to the characters, loving them for all their scars and glitches, that the family unit feels utterly and terrifyingly true.
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