Theatre and book reviews by Janice Dempsey
Joe has managed to deny blame for himself but the gossip is that he should be in gaol too. When Chris announces that he intends to marry Ann, Deever’s daughter, who had been engaged to marry his missing brother, emotions run high.
The excellent cast are fully immersed in the play and engage us every moment that they are onstage. They superbly carry the characters’ passionate discussions of honour, honesty, responsibility and the role of money and materialism in times of war. Mark Ashdown as Joe Kellar, the confident, jokey family man, develops under pressure to show the deeply dishonest side of his character: cowardly, selfish, betrayer of his friend and of the men who died when he valued his own personal gain above their lives.
Steve Graham as Chris Kellar is a calm, gentle man, supportive of his parents. He has learnt honour as the leader of men in the war – and carries guiltily his memory of losing them in action. His unbearable distress when that honour is compromised is very moving.
Laura Sheppard as Kate Kellar is a strong figure, pitiful in her obsessive belief that her other son still lives, powerful in her obstinacy and refusal to allow Chris her blessing on his plan to marry Ann. Her grief at the end of the play is mythical: her world is torn apart, her hands clawing her face, a mask of despair. My own eyes were overflowing with the enormity of her emotion.
And, not a bystander but a catalyst, the character of Ann Deever (Catherine Ashdown) interacts with this needy family. Her slightly awkward grace in a new dress and high-heeled shoes, her warmth towards Chris and her tact and firmness with her prospective in-laws is always engaging and always meaningful.
This is a wonderful play, timeless in its discussion of personal, family and patriotic honour and loyalty. And this is a wonderful production, directed superbly by Robert Sheppard. It’s on every night until Saturday 14th April - not to be missed!
FIVE STARS - unmissable!
This review appeared earlier on the theatre/arts page of Essential Surrey online magazine
Be prepared to be intrigued and mystified!
Until this final moment of bathos and dissipation of dramatic suspense, we had enjoyed an evening of rising tension, as Sandor, a powerful, sinister and obviously neurotic character manipulates Joe, a vulnerable young man whom he holds in thrall to his will, with undercurrents of sexual ambiguity, violence and romantic interest to leaven the whole. Dean Smith plays Joe as an endearing weakling caught in the web of Sandor’s obsession, with moments of absurdity and humour that leaven the sense of dread in the first half of the play. Changes in the power dynamic among the characters of Sandor (Joe Eyre), his mother (Karen Drury) and Joe’s “sister”, Tilley (Rachel Hart), skilfully kept us in expectation of an exciting crisis throughout the first half of the play.
It’s after the interval that inconsistencies of characterisation and plot arise to erode our credibility in the story and the characters. Suspended belief is challenged when the would-be kidnappers are allowed to escape, for example. These are the script’s faults rather than the director’s or the actors’, of course.
I enjoyed the evening despite these reservations about the play’s plot and construction. It’s full of suspense and I found myself intensely curious as to what the outcome would be. Dean Smith brought Joe to life as Sandor’s psychological captive; Rachel Hart was sluttish and funny in the role of Tilley; Paul Opacic as Paul was a decent man trapped in the dilemma of choosing between his daughter and a lover. Perhaps Eva Sayer as his daughter was a little shrill but Florence Cady was beautiful and aristocratic and Karen Drury’s portrayal of Sandor’s neurotically possessive mother was faultless.
This is a good night out at the theatre. Be ready to be mystified!
This review also appears on the Theatre and Arts page of Essential Surrey Magazine today. /www.essentialsurrey.co.uk/theatre-arts/review-gallowglass-yvonne-arnaud/