Clarence Players present ‘The Mai’ by Marina Carr

Note: This play contains strong language

Setting

Ireland
Act 1 – Summer 1979
Act 2 – One year later

Synopsis

An accomplished beautiful 40 year old woman, The Mai has always sought an exceptional life. Robert, her cellist husband, has always felt stifled by The Mai’s ideals of perfection. After 17 years he leaves her, whereupon she sets about building a dream house in the hope that he will one day return to her. From her fairy castle The Mai waits by the window for her dark-haired prince to return. Set in the inspiring surrounds of the West of Ireland, on the banks of the legendary Owl Lake, we enter this world on the day of Robert’s return after an absence of 4 years. Deeply theatrical and profoundly intense, The Mai is an epic tale of love and loss, of elusive dreams shattered by vulgar but inescapable reality.

Cast

The Mai Jackie Wilson
Millie Heidi McKee
Grandma Fraochlan Dorothy Wiley
Robert Roger Jennings
Beck Nicky Allister
Connie Lorraine Stevenson
Julie Shaunagh McKirgan
Agnes Frances Hastie

Crew

Director Carole Stewart
Lighting Drew McConnell
Paul Parkhill
Sound Rosamund Monteith
Stage Manager Dave Rowan
Set Design Alan Marshall
Set Construction Members of the company
Continuity Carole Hunter

About The Group

The Clarence Players drama group was formed in 1931 as the Dramatic Art Section of CIYMS (the Church of Ireland Young Men’s Society).
They’ve been appearing at Drama Festivals and Summer Theatre Seasons for over 50 years.

Summary of Adjudicator’s Comments

Having joked that he has been dubbed ‘Judge Geoff’ by RTÉ’s Brenda Donohue, Adjudicator Geoff O’Keeffe said ‘The Mai, first premiered in 1994, established Marina Carr as “a brave new voice” in contemporary Irish theatre. The play features “pitch black humour” and mythical allusions as we observe “unresolved discord” involving four generations of women. Set in the shadow of the legendary Owl Lake in the midlands of Ireland, the lake could be described as “haunted” and it provides a “potent atmosphere”. A production of this play must infuse myth and memory, and explore the “psychological scars” that are passed on from one generation to the next.
Looking at the set design (overseen by Alan Marshall), the adjudicator felt it was “very much in tune with what the play is about”. It was described as “contemporary, sparse and minimalistic”. The large window, the textures and use of angles were praised. Overall, the design concept was “very well realised”. The lighting was effective in illuminating the actors and, with music central to the play, the sound was “appropriate” and well chosen.
One aspect where the adjudicator felt the group should be careful is the balance between sound and the dialogue of the actors. The costumes were “appropriate” and, overall, “a good level of presentation” was achieved by this group.
Mr O’Keeffe contended that this was a “brave choice” of play to perform because of the “inherent demands” it places on the actors. The setting is a “particular part of Ireland” and this provides challenges. The adjudicator felt the accents were “problematic” in that at times they “went from one part of the country to another” and this had a detrimental impact on the “rhythms” of the play. The audience occasionally “didn’t get to where we needed to go” as the accents “got in the way” to some extent.
Also, Mr O’Keeffe opined that at times actors were “working really well individually” but were “not always connecting” with each other. For instance, the relationship between The Mai and Robert is central to the play, yet the adjudicator felt they didn’t really connect until the second act. The individual actors gave “very fine performances” but it wasn’t until the second act that they “bounced off each other”.
The director moved the actors around the stage well and there were some “lovely moments”, with the second act described as “more successful” than the first. The singing sequence involving Beck, Connie and The Mai was commended as “beautifully rendered” and the play “became alive” with the row between Robert and The Mai. The “cut and thrust” of the physical engagement between these two characters worked well at this juncture.
Turning to the individual actors, the adjudicator said Jackie Wilson (The Mai) had a “strong presence” and found “much of what was needed” in this character. Heidi McKee (Millie) was part actor and part narrator and “coped well” with these demands.
Dorothy Wiley was said to have “a gem of a role” as the elderly, opium smoking Grandma Fraochlan. She gave a “very good account of herself” in what was labelled “a playful characterisation”. Her telling of the story of how her husband came to be known as “the nine fingered fisherman” was highlighted favourably.
Roger Jennings (Robert) in the role of “the outsider” and “absentee father” gave a “competent performance” and was described as “particularly strong” in his confrontation with The Mai near the end.
Nicky Allister (Beck) delivered “a very likeable performance” with this character described as “believable”. Lorraine Stevenson (Connie) had “a very good presence” and gave “a considered performance”.
Shaunagh McKirgan (Julie) was praised for her depiction of “the aunt with the vicious tongue” and she also managed to show that “she was as damaged as anyone else in the piece”. Frances Hastie (Agnes), “the kinder of the two aunts” was “considered” and “very true to this character”. She “looked brilliant” and the adjudicator confessed to having “a soft spot for her”.
Overall, the adjudicator said this production had an “astutely conceived setting” and while the accents presented difficult challenges, there were “find individual performances”. He added that whilst there were moments where the action “coalesced” effectively, this production would need “to dig deeper to find all that is hidden in this play”.