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Molly Sweeney, The Print Room

Brian Friel

Directed by Abigail Graham
★★★★★
Pros: An excellent venue, compelling script and note-perfect performances.
Cons: Nothing worth mentioning.
Our Verdict: This production breathes new life into Brian Friel’s poetic work. Astounding all round.
Credit: Tristram Kenton

The Print Room is a gorgeous 1950s converted graphic design warehouse in Notting Hill. Now in its third year, the venue has created consistently exciting, innovative fringe theatre, and Molly Sweeney is no different. 

Brian Friel’s play explores the life of a small-town Irish woman who has been blind since infancy. Molly undergoes an operation to restore her sight, which has very interesting results. This is a play that goes far beyond topics such as disability and modern day medical advances. Like much of Friel’s work, this is a story about the inhabitants of Ballybeg, a small rural Irish town. Molly is an extremely likable character who finds it hard to find fault with other people. She is joyous and gracious for all that she has, despite the many difficulties life has thrown at her. Married to Frank, an unemployed amateur intellectual, Molly’s sight problems become her husband’s latest obsession. He spends his days hidden away in the local library devouring books detailing the inner-workings of the eye. His recently-acquired, ill-informed knowledge teamed with his endless interfering becomes a source of irritation to Molly’s opthamologist, Mr Rice.
Brian Friel is a master creator of deeply human, relatable characters. However, he is particularly good at writing women and Molly is a worthy central character. Somewhat like Faith Healer, this play is divided into two halves, with three characters who never directly interact on stage. The entire show is a series of lengthy monologues delivered directly to the audience. This is a particularly useful theatrical tool as we discover who these people are through the communication of their own inner thoughts.
Molly’s husband, Frank Sweeney, is brilliantly played by Ruairi Conaghan. The script presents us with an intolerable know-it-all who regularly overshadows his wife’s choices and Conaghan steps into these shoes brilliantly, bringing plenty of humour along with him. The direction across the board seems to be low-key, and, like the other actors, Conaghan’s delivery is subtle and believable. Stuart Graham is excellent as poor Mr Rice, a clever man who has suffered greatly in his personal life and whose medical career has declined as a result. Graham portrays a quintessential Irish doctor with the generic, slightly false ‘medical professional’ accent which Irish audience members will instantly recognise. His performance is well-honed, fascinating and deeply tragic.
The story is really about Molly herself, of course, and Dorothy Duffy brings enormous truth and sensitivity to this pivotal role. Playing a blind person convincingly is an incredibly difficult thing to do and this element of her performance is flawless. Although Molly doesn’t have the most exciting life, Duffy manages to make her a compelling subject. What was most interesting for me was that Molly’s monologues felt more visual than the other two characters in the sense that her descriptions were more colourful and easier to imagine. Brian Friel’s deeply poetic writing along with Dorothy Duffy’s expert delivery are part of why this show is a must-see. I couldn’t take my eyes of her throughout her monologues. She feels so real and so pure in spirit that it is easy to become swept up in her story.
Another element worth mentioning is the excellent set design. As someone who has spent most of her life in Ireland, the stage felt like home to me with green rolling hills in the far off distance without ever veering towards cliché (so easily done). The lighting, the trees and even the colour of the walls felt like the real deal.
I cannot recommend this play enough. Everything is worthy of praise – from the charming, welcoming staff at the gorgeous Print Room to the high production values found in every corner of the production itself. If you’re looking for a real taste of Irish theatre with talented Irish performers, this is a winner. I can’t imagine seeing anything more compelling either on the West End, the fringe or beyond.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Molly Sweeney runs at The Print Room until 27th April 2013.
Box Office: 020 7221 6036 or book online at http://www.the-print-room.org/

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