The Abbey Theatre: The Country Girls – Until April 6th! (Trailer below)

Frances Winston reviews this play at the Abbey Theatre, based on a once-banned book by Edna O’Brien

The Country Girls at The Abbey Theatre, Abbey St, Dublin 1

When Edna O’Brien published The Country Girls in 1960, it caused uproar, thanks to its depiction of Irish women, who wanted more than the marriage and motherhood life mapped out for them in a post WWII world. They embraced free thinking, and (shock horror) sex, and it was ruled “indecent and obscene” under the Censorship of Publications Act. Time may have made some of the issues tackled far less sensitive or shocking, but the underlying story of two girls trying to find their own way in the world, while struggling to retain their friendship, should still resonate.

O’Brien herself is responsible for this stage adaptation, and was actually in attendance the night I saw this, much to the audience’s delight.

If you’re not familiar with the story, it tells the tale of best friends, Kate and Baba, the Country Girls of the title, who find themselves expelled from their convent school much to their families’ shame. Heading for Dublin, they try to forge their own way in the world. Kate is hung up on a married lover from home, while Baba is determined to experience the finer things in life at any cost.

This version is extremely stylised. The stage is initially sparse, but a quick glance upwards shows various furnishings and props hanging from the ceiling, and they descend as needed, quickly disappearing to the gods once more when the scene is over.

The palette starts out a mixture of grey and monochrome, and as the story progresses, some colour is injected. Director, Graham McLaren, has utilised movement to help give a sense of the oppression felt by the girls, and many scenes are abstract rather than narrative. Although ostensibly the story of the two girls, this is very much an ensemble show, and there is some serious talent on display here.

Most of the cast play multiple roles, and in some cases this is more successful than others, as many of them are quite memorable in standout moments, so somewhat distracting when they reappear in another role. While they all do an excellent job, adding another couple of cast-members to share the load may have been an idea.

They have made the unusual decision to forgo an interval, so this runs straight through at around 1 hour 40 minutes – a respectable length that ensures the pacing remains snappy. As the story reaches its conclusions, it nearly reaches breakneck speed, wrapping everything up almost too neatly, given how controversial this story was considered in its day.

This is a decent adaptation, and a sweet coming-of-age tale, but it has somewhat lost the shock-factor that defined it in its era. Perhaps that is partly down to the fact that the author adapted it – obviously she wants to retain her underlying message – however, fresh eyes may have made this far more daring.

It is extremely safe, and although entertaining, you won’t walk away outraged as readers of the book did back in the day. A nice homage to a bygone and more innocent era, this will fuel a nostalgia trip rather than debate, but is a nice evening’s entertainment.

The Country Girls at The Abbey Theatre, 26-27 Abbey Street Lower, Dublin 1

Until April 6th, then on tour countrywide until May 4th

7.30pm nightly, with matinees 2pm Wednesdays and Saturdays

Tickets from €13 – €45 / Conc. €13 – €30

Post-Show Talk, Saturday 6 April

Post-Matinee talk on The Country Girls with members of the production.

Check out:

https://www.abbeytheatre.ie/whats-on/the-country-girls/

for further information.

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