REVIEWS, THE ARTS THEATRE WEST END, LONDON
Arts, until 1 February 2014
Of all the West End’s unloved venues the loveliest is the Arts Theatre. It specialises in creaky off-beat plays like by Ann Henning Jocelyn. We’re in Connemara, in the west of Ireland, in the early 1990s. An Anglo-Irish family are struggling to cope with their status as universal pariahs. Wherever they go they’re out of place. Catholic Ireland resents them. In England, their spiritual home, they feel like aliens.
An unexpected revelation by a member of the younger generation prompts a bombshell of a speech from Lady Eliza, who witnessed a village insurrection in 1922 when she was just 11. This understated and immensely powerful speech sets the tone for a play whose stately rhythm and unshowy manner are deceptive. It tackles a huge theme with dynamic artistry: the long feud between Catholics and Protestants over 90 years. We watch as insane violence evolves into passive, uneventful loathing, and then into tentative friendship and finally into openness and reconciliation. Countries with a recent history of sectarianism would flock to see this play. In London it lacks immediacy because at the moment we seem to be getting along all right, fingers crossed. On tour in Ireland, north or south, it’s sure to be a hit
The Stage, Nicholas Hamilton
Only Our Own
Published Wednesday 15 January 2014 at 12:16 by Nicholas Hamilton
When the Swedish author and playwright Ann Henning Jocelyn married an Irish earl and moved to rural Ireland in the 1980s, she was surprised to see how some Irish Protestants had isolated themselves from the rest of the population in the decades following the Irish War of Independence. In this new play, she explores how three generations of the same Anglo-Irish family have dealt with this situation and how they might move towards a healthier relationship with their Catholic neighbours.
In powerful monologues Lady Eliza (Elaine Montgomorie) explains how her life changed forever in 1922 when rebels burned down her ancestral home and killed her brother. Lady Eliza wants to discuss these experiences openly, but her daughter Meg (Maev Alexander), son-in-law Andrew (Cornelius Garrett) and the wider Protestant community do not want to look bank on painful history.
This ambitious play skilfully depicts an aspect of Irish history that is less well known. The writer’s proximity to her subject matter is evident in subtle cultural references and well-rounded characters. The production is supported by an excellent cast, with Cornelius Garrett, in particular, making an impression with his portrayal of Andrew’s transition into old age.
ONLY OUR OWN
The Arts Theatre may be located in the bustling West End, but head through its doors this month and you’ll find yourself in an isolated corner of Ireland, where one family’s violent past refuses to stay buried.
Squeezing an ambitious set of themes into its two hour run, playwright Ann Henning Jocelyn’s offering explores the long-term effects of the Irish War of Independence, the impact of living in religious discord and the potentially destructive repercussions of keeping secrets through the prism of one disjointed family.
Locked up safe in their ivory tower – or in this case a manor fishery where their neighbours are known simply as the help – the traditional unit is led by its feisty matriarch Lady Eliza (Elaine Montgomerie). who deplores the younger generation’s lack of style.
But as the antiquated lady of the house reaches the end of her life memories from her childhood, of one terrible night in which her family’s ancestral home was burned to the ground by IRA rebels, rise to the surface, refusing to be quelled even by her stuffy daughter’s disgust for daring to bring up such ugly truths decades later.
A letter written to read when she is gone weaves throughout the subsequent narrative and dramatic turns of events, as the play leads to a conclusion that suggests that however far your life takes you away from your roots, your familial past, even generations later, is inescapable.
As the family move from isolation to integration and work towards a society where Catholics and Protestants can create a better life together, the lessons learnt throughout the generations finally prove fruitful in Lars Harald Gathe’s very traditionally staged production.
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ONLY OUR OWN – Arts Theatre, London.
January 13, 2014
Credit Ludovic des Cognets
The Anglo-Irish culture has produced many priceless contributions to the arts both in Ireland and the wider world. Oscar Wilde was from the Anglo side of things, as was Yeats. Away from the arts, everyone knows the impact Mr. Arthur Guinness has had. It’s a seam of Irish culture that is perennially ripe for dramatic tension and historical hand-wringing, filled with luxurious highs and squalid lows that tempt all sorts of writers and others in the arts to mine for stories. In this case, writer Ann Henning Jocelyn has found an interesting angle, an intimate way of exploring the Anglo legacy.
The story of the four generations of this Anglo family is a big, emotionally rich and dramatically interesting one. They’re isolated, tense, stuck in a dead-end historical tangent and they manage to grow out of it. They are Irish history in micro, they are symbols of new secular integration and the cultural context in which this family sits is fascinating, even for audiences who come to it without knowing a jot of Irish history. If you have an interest in the specific narrative of how an Anglo-Irish legacy family changed to fit the new secular Ireland, then yes, there is something here for you. If you have an interest in the Anglo-Irish tradition and culture in general, then you will have enough to sustain you .
By Karl O’Doherty
Only Our Own
Ann Henning Jocelyn
CTCo Theatre Productions and Heritage Productions UK
From 08 January 2014 to 01 February 2014
Review by Howard Loxton
In Only Our Own, Ann Henning Jocelyn sets out to show the change that has taken place in Ireland as mirrored in an Anglo-Irish family over four generations.
It shows them at various stages from 1922 to the present day from the night in when an eleven-year-old Eliza was roused from sleep by rebels who drove them from their home and burned it down, a night when her puppy was beaten to death and her brother murdered.
Director Lars Harald Gathe opens the play with a tableau in the half-light before the scene is fully lit that silhouettes the cast standing to say grace before a meal. Encapsulating the sectarian background to the play in a single image against the woodcut-like view of Connemara lakes and mountains that dominates Christopher Faulds’s setting, it is a wordless moment in contrast to the word-conscious dialogue which follows.
That dialogue is written in a form of free verse which shapes the punctuation of its playing, especially for Elaine Montgomerie’s now elderly but elegantly didactic Lady Eliza, though the actors handle it as natural speech.
Eliza’s daughter Meg has her own story of loss that heightens the pathos of her efforts to hold on to old family values, but time brings reassessment. Her husband quotes her father “Whatever is done to us—they’ll never break our spirit,” but, “only our own can do that” is her reply. Maev Alexander as Meg and Cornelius Garrett as her husband Andrew make them a very loving couple, trapped in their social situation. Garrett is especially good as the aging man bowed by grief and disappointment but still fighting.