By Rebecca Lenkiewicz
Directed by Ailsa Piper
With Ella Caldwell, Kate Cole, David Whiteley, Peter Curtin, Diana Greentree & Simone Ray
Set Design and Costumes by Hugh Colman
Lighting by Rachel Burke
Choreography by Tony Bartuccio
Stage Manager Jess Smithett
The Night Season (Mar 9 – April 9, 2005)
Thuy On, The Australian – 22 MAR 2005
REBECCA Lenkiewicz’s The Night Season is both a typical and atypical production from Red Stitch Actors Theatre. Once again the ensemble has focused on family dynamics.
However, unlike the group’s usual attachment to grim material, The Night Season has moments of gentle romantic whimsy that dilute the bitterness of intergenerational friction.
The Kennedy household is a crowded one: on top of the family tree is grandmother Lily (Diana Greentree), followed by son-in-law Patrick (Peter Curtin) and three granddaughters: Judith (Kate Cole), Rose (Ella Caldwell) and Maud (Simone Ray).
Yet the household is not entirely full. Years earlier, Esther — the daughter, wife and mother of the family — had left in unexplained circumstances. In her absence, the rest of the Kennedys have been held together by self-pity and the memory of being wronged by the person on whom they’d depended.
Into this damaged family comes John (David Whiteley), a charismatic, good-looking young actor who has decided to board with the Kennedys while he’s acting in a film about W.B. Yeats.
His arrival stirs up the household and provides much-needed distraction: all of a sudden there’s a sympathetic ear, a dancing partner, a drinking mate and a love interest all rolled into one.
Under Ailsa Piper’s direction, the Red Stitch actors handle themselves with their usual professional aplomb (including Brett Cousins as Judith’s lovesick suitor). Guest actors Greentree and Curtin should be singled out for closer attention.
Greentree’s sprightly Lily is a lovely creation, a woman who adores music and dance and who, despite evidence to the contrary, refuses to give in to old age. Her gentle charming of John into slow dancing with her, moments after his inebriated arrival, brings a smile to the face.
As Patrick, Curtin plays that fixture on the Irish drama scene: the lovable rogue full of bluster and blarney, the type of wag whose perpetual drunkenness never seems to affect his lucidity or wit. Cursing freely one moment, Curtin was equally comfortable quoting bits of Shakespeare the next.
There is song, dance, snippets of poetry and even a piggy-back ride in this affecting and enjoyable production, and a happy relief that Red Stitch Actors Theatre is capable of extending its repertoire to accommodate plays other than its traditional airless, bleak dramas.
Helen Thomson, The Age 18/03/2005
RED Stitch has once again secured rights to a new, hugely successful London play, not from the adventurously experimental Royal Court, but no less than the National Theatre. The Night Season is Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s first full-length play, but it has no trace of apprentice work about it; it is a remarkably assured, varied and polished work.
The work is not startlingly innovative. In fact, it works within well-worn parameters, familiar dramatic and literary tropes associated with Ireland. In this case it is a Sligo family of father, three daughters and their grandmother, long since abandoned by the mother, who lives in London.
It’s true that they are a little less conventional than most, but the father, Patrick (Peter Curtin), is a drunk, the grandmother, Lily (Diana Greentree), is more than a little mad, and the three sisters, Rose (Ella Caldwell), Judith (Kate Cole) and Maud (Simone Ray), are studies in Irish spinsterhood. Admittedly, they are all sexually active and fond of a joint as well as a Guinness.
When the actor, John (David Whiteley), comes to board with them during the filming of a movie about the poet W. B. Yeats, there are many repercussions. Yet the story of this play is less important than the manner in which it is told.
Lenkiewicz seems to have found the perfect director in Ailsa Piper, who has taken the Red Stitch ensemble to new places in this production. The play is funny, but also tender, satirical yet respectful. Yeats is sent up, but Patrick’s speech is beautifully interwoven with poetic quotation. There is a remarkable gentleness.
It is the maintenance of this quality in the acting that saves the play from what might otherwise threaten it – familiar Irish sentimentality, and merely satirical demolition of the same thing. It is both romantic and ribald. The father, whose every speech contains some of Shakespeare’s words, is also the comic turn who invariably enters his house of womenfolk with the words, “which of you is pregnant?”.
In contrast with so much of Red Stitch’s earlier work, often abrasive and violent, The Night Season affirms the traditional virtues of family affection holding fast through adversity. It does so with unobtrusive charm and solid, professional workmanship from the company.