Pros: A solid script with a moving, strongly emotional storyline that touches many open wounds in modern Irish society with just the right amount of healing power. Some truly excellent acting.
Cons: The direction could have done with a bit more sparkle and pace.
I’ve always loved the arty-meets-West-End feeling at the Arts Theatre: with its slightly dated elegance, it is a truly fitting venue for the world premiere of this new, ambitious play of intergenerational conflict and half-forgotten pain. So there I was, clinging on to my wine glass, comfortably ushered into the red velvet seats, admiring the beautifully carved canvas on stage.
However, I knew this was not going to be any laughing matter. Only Our Own is a book by Ann Henning Jocelyn, a true institution in Ireland best known as the author of the Connemara Whirlwind Trilogy. The plot takes us on a journey through time, moving us to tears and letting us almost smell the blood on the Irish moss. Luckily, it also makes us smile every now and then. The play tells the emotional rollercoaster tale of a proud Anglo-Irish family, which could be that of any family forced out of the comfort of their land and into the unknown. It is a story of courage, pride, shame and prejudice. We start off in 1980s Ireland, where protestant Lady Eliza (the elegant Elaine Montgomery) is once again despairing over granddaughter Titania’s (Alex Gilbert) utter disenchantment with their family’s traditions. How dare she not sit at dinner with them, nicely dressed and respectfully compliant? Why does she want a microwave, and wear baggy clothes? And as her daughter Meg (Maev Alexander) and husband Andrew (Cornelius Garrett) blatantly fail to heal the generational cliff, it becomes all too clear that in order to move forward, this family will have to confront the ghosts from their – and their Country’s – brutal past.
As the story evolves through deaths and new-born children, inter-religious hate and lust, post-natal depression and grandmotherly love, American dream and a newly found Irish pride, there is an invisible thread: the voice of Lady Eliza via the letter she wrote to Titania the night before she died. Revealing what truly happened all those years ago in 1922 to their once-rich family, it will guide four generations to finally understand each other.
This is a solid, powerful plot that will not fail to raise emotions. Gathe’s direction was equally solid yet, at times, I found myself desiring a tad more pace. Some scenes could have been less monodirectional and more punchy. Perhaps a touch more humour to it could have eased off the heavy emotional load somewhere in between child separation and aging parents. The stage could have benefitted from a bit more movement and dynamic changes as well. On the other hand, the acting was remarkably elegant and enjoyable, most so by Montgomery, but above all by Garrett, who managed a plethora of aging characters majestically well.
All in all, this is a very ambitious new entry that will certainly conquer many Irish and non-Irish hearts. Be warned: by the end of it, it may have you wanting to run to your grandparents and hug them without explaining why. Shame only for the pace, as a touch more dynamism would have made it an even more remarkable night out.
Author: Ann Henning Jocelyn
Director: Lars Harald Gathe
Producer: Berislav Juraic
Booking Until: 1st February 2014
Box Office: 020 7836 8463
Booking Link: www.artstheatrewestend.co.uk