By the Bog of Cats at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin
On Wednesday 19th of August last I attended an edgy, gripping performance of “By the Bog of Cats” at The Abbey Theatre in Dublin. The production was written by Marina Carr. Directed by Selina Cartmell, Set Designed and Costume Design by Monica Frawley, Lighting Design by Sinead Wallace, Hair and Make-up Design by Val Sherlock.
This edgy, humorous, unfolding tragic and unsettling drama is set in a symbolic, bleak, isolated, scoop of dry bog-land; a spacious, mysterious place of old secrets, some dark, one, very dark. Anticipation stirs as a character approaches a door on the back of an old caravan sunken, half submerged in a bog-hole. The stage darkens and the character’s exploring view of the caravan interior is projected onto a large background cyclorama, the view finally settling on the image of a child who is now in person the sole occupant of the stage.
Scenographer Monica Frawley presents the performance space as a low two level isolated almost featureless pock marked dry hollow in what can be imagined as a larger bleaker, sparsely populated landscape. The irregular textured oval shaped floor level area is backed on three sides (upstage, stage left and right) by a higher level which curves down stage on stage left and right; with on/off egress up stage left and right. The two levels access each other via a connecting curved ramp from upstage centre to half way down stage left. There is down stage on/off wings egress from the down stage half of the oval shaped floor level which protrudes over the stage apron into the front of the auditorium.
The irregular textured surfaces disguise some foot and hand holds on the stage right sloping wall between the two levels. It also accommodates an old caravan sunken, half submerged in a bog-hole which in turn does sink into the bog. The same bog hole area doubles for the burial of the dead Black Swan. Another part of the floor accommodates a more sinister bog hole. (See the show).
The synchronised choreographed appearances of characters with the subtly lit performance areas within the space and the smooth queuing of the performers bring the audience effortlessly from setting to setting and from time to time.
The centre stage left performance space is anchored by a small broken ridge of raised rock which is visually pleasing in the near emptiness of the space and low broken small ridge is used to good effect by the characters.
The later wedding scene is augmented by sufficient well-chosen props and dressings to set the occasion and to give the characters what they require to enact the scene.
The set presentation is visually pleasing, appropriate to the script and in conjunction with the lighting design, costume design, hair and makeup conjures an enhancing visual ambience populated by the mesmerising characters of the writer’s imagination. The scenic elements are robust; appear economically effective and are supportive of the whole performance. The limited use of the backing projection screen for projected images gives a subdued starkness to the space. This assists in confining the observer’s attention on the performers, an effect which is supported by Lighting Designer, Sinead Wallace’s lighting.
Monica also designed the costumes which were effective in giving most of the characters a credible appearance/sense of being in/from a confused contemporary rural society and to some others a larger than life, mystical, otherworldliness, dream like presence to their character.
As the drama unfolds the encroaching mental and physical deterioration of Hester Swane was convincingly supported by her changing, deteriorating attire and appearance.
The Lighting Design was subtle and sensitive in conveying changes of location, time and bringing emphasis to dramatic moments.
Overall a contained, dramatically open, uncluttered setting in which this edgy, unsettling and at times very humorous, subliminal Greek tragedy unfolds.
The programme at €5.00 contains information on The Abbey Theatre, an informative précis by Mary O’Malley on writer, play and meaning, Biographies on the cast and crew and listings of friends and advertisers.
Programmes that provide content such as the Director’s view on the play and/or comments and sketches by the designers giving insight into some of the thought process behind the concept development are to be encouraged. Such input from the Director and the Designers is of immense value to students of Design for Stage and Screen, Performance, Design for Performance and when provided is to be welcomed. The Abbey Theatre on-line resource does show images by Ross Kavanagh of the set, stage and characters at: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10153083826495642.1073741895.97959920641&type=3&utm_source=wordfly&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=BTBOCReviewe-card&utm_content=version_A
Marina Carr: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marina_Carr
Selina Cartmell http://unitedagents.co.uk/selina-cartmell
Monica Frawley: http://www.irishplayography.com/person.aspx?personid=2306
Abbey Theatre: http://www.abbeytheatre.ie/
For designers see: http://design.irishtheatreinstitute.ie/