Focus Theatre presentes 'TIC' by Elizabeth Moynihan. Photo: Karl McCaughey

Focus Theatre presentes 'TIC' by Elizabeth Moynihan. Photo: Karl McCaughey

 Focus Theatre presentes 'TIC' by Elizabeth Moynihan. Photo: Karl McCaughey

Focus Theatre presentes 'TIC' by Elizabeth Moynihan. Photo: Karl McCaughey

The central motif in Elizabeth Moynihan’s “full length premiere” at the Focus Theatre is a syndrome, named after the French neurologist, Georges Gilles de la Tourette who, in 1885, identified the combination of involuntary tics – both motor and vocal – which, in this play, afflicts a young Anglo-Irishwoman, who has been incarcerated in a folly in the grounds of the ‘big house’.

Focus Theatre presentes 'TIC' by Elizabeth Moynihan. Photo: Karl McCaugheyThe nineteenth-century setting allows Moynihan to introduce Tourette’s as something of a novelty and also to give some credence to the husband’s decision to simply lock up his wife, where her embarrassing behaviour will be at a far remove from the drawing room. Shades of the first Mrs. Rochester.

The burning question here is whether Tourette’s is to be regarded as a medical condition, “a beast within” (as the woman sees it), a demon to be exorcised (the Priest’s ‘take’ on it), or whether Moynihan intends it as a metaphor for the indignity that this woman suffers at the hands of men – a husband who “wants to live a life without regret” but who, shamed by his wife’s behaviour, has turned gaoler; the priest who exults in literally scalding the devil out of her; the doctor who offers a gentle and rational therapy, but who is swayed by an ambition that drives him to exploit her. And offstage there is a further line of charlatans, ‘curers’ who have merely added to her torment.

While Moynihan raises fascinating issues, she seems uncertain as to which should take precedence. There are hints that the marriage is a peculiar one – he says it was “arranged”; she says it was “for love”. Their emotions are distorted by their overwhelming sense of class superiority. (This is set cleverly in relief by the presence of the servant girl, Bridget (Sonya O’Donoghue), full of common sense and clear about her own identity in rank and language.) Man and wife have drifted apart – she longs to regain that “long-forgotten gentleness” and he longs for the woman she was. The waters are muddied further by the doctor’s sexual advances. Are we in pre-Freud psycho-territory?

Focus Theatre presentes 'TIC' by Elizabeth Moynihan. Photo: Karl McCaugheyMuch of the force is sustained by the fine central performance of Lorna Quinn, as the woman, laden with convincing tics, barks and foul-mouthed outbursts, but falling short of tragic anguish. The Priest (Neil Hogan) is conventionally severe and domineering; Colm O’Brien’s Doctor starts in a gentle mode but gets mired in his own deliberate delivery. As the husband Michael Bates is cool, controlled, conventional, so that it is difficult to accept that the resolution of the piece, a note of hope and reconciliation, has actually been worked through.

Moynihan’s writing is elegant. Indeed, she aligns herself with the Focus tradition of articulate, issue-driven costume drama. Her language shows a genuine struggle to define the black dogs that have destroyed the woman’s peace of mind: “I am so tired… I wear myself out.” In the action and in a programme note we are invited to draw parallels with Rapunzel, the beauty confined to the tower, awaiting her prince. But Ibsen it’s not, nor Strindberg. Making it ‘full length’ – there was a previous one-act version – raises problems: a long-drawn scene between doctor and husband; an expendable interval; inevitable ‘tic-fatigue’. One senses an absence of dramaturgy, which might have brought more focus (no pun intended) to Moynihan's themes.

Derek West is the Arts & Education Officer of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals. He has been attending productions at the Focus Theatre since the late 1960s.

  • Review
  • Theatre

TIC by Elizabeth Moynihan

30 Aug - 18 Sept, 2010

Produced by Focus Theatre
In the Focus Theatre

Directed by Joe Devlin

Costume/Set Design: Therese Mullen

Lighting Design: Colm Maher

Sound Design: Shane Flynn

With: Michael Bates, Sonya O’Donoghue, Neil Hogan, Colm O’Brien, Lorna Quinn