The Cat and the Moon

'The Cat and the Moon' presented by Blue Raincoat Theatre Company.

'The Cat and the Moon' presented by Blue Raincoat Theatre Company.

'The Cat and the Moon' presented by Blue Raincoat Theatre Co.

'The Cat and the Moon' presented by Blue Raincoat Theatre Co.

The Cat and the Moon is Blue Raincoat’s fourth production this year, conveniently taking place alongside the 50th Yeats International Summer School. Sure enough, the crowd that fills the foyer of the Factory space for this 30-minute lunchtime show seems to fit this studious demographic, and the clutched books and overheard conversations confirm as much. The British man behind me had recently seen a version in New York, and was looking forward to a local take, while the American with whom he chatted had seen Blue Raincoat’s version the day before, and fancied a second analysis. Such is the status of Yeats’ plays, that we are most likely to encounter them as academic sideshows rather than independent productions with mass appeal. Yeats’ play of 1926 exploits what was to become a very familiar kind of coupling in Irish theatre. Here, a blind man (Henry) and a lame man (Carty) search for a holy well that might cure their afflictions. Dependent on each other, yet increasingly frustrated by that dependence, they set off in search of transformation, the blind man carrying the lame man on his back. Blue Raincoat’s production begins with the two main characters and three musicians walking ceremoniously into the studio space, following the line indicated by an illuminated spiral of long grass, which demarcates the playing space. While the high stone and concrete walls of the Factory theatre remain unadorned, two masks hang upstage left. The actors apply the masks, to which Yeats was so drawn in Noh theatre for their depersonifying effect, while the three musicians sit stage right, poised to begin.

With this precise, purposeful introduction, director Kellie Hughes establishes the ritualistic quality to the play. This is followed through in the design, the musical interludes, and the movement of the actors. After the first musician gives the atonal introduction - “The cat went here and there/And the moon spun round like a top…” - the men slowly move around the grass circle for the duration of the play, only leaving once they have travelled 360 degrees, and their fates have been sealed.

The play pivots on the characters’ decision to ask for a cure or a blessing at the holy well. The blind man chooses to see again, and in seeing too much – the skin of his sheep on the lame man’s back – he is corrupted by earthly desires. In a familiar Yeatsian turn, the lame man opts for a blessing, sacrificing his bodily needs for spiritual privilege: “It would be a grand thing to have two legs under me, but I have it in my mind that it would be a grander thing to have my name in that book.” And so it happens that it is he who sees the holy saint, and not the man whose blindness has been cured.

The actors give lithe performances, and this deftness of movement is especially obvious when the blind man balletically eases himself onto the lame man’s back. The fight that follows the discovery of his sheepskin is stylized, although the mimed contact of limbs and sticks frequently misses the beat supplied by the drummer.

Perhaps what emerges as most striking in this production is how somber the rendition is. Like similar couplings in Synge, O’Casey, and Beckett, the interaction between the characters in Yeats’ play can be highly comic, although Hughes is more drawn towards its spiritual dimension, and the ritualistic transformation of the earthy into the sublime.

Fintan Walsh teaches and writes about theatre.
  • Review
  • Theatre

The Cat and the Moon by WB Yeats

4 – 15 August, 2009

Produced by Blue Raincoat Theatre Company
In The Factory Performance Space, Sligo

Directed by Kellie Hughes

Set design: Jo Conway

Lighting design: Michael Cummins

Sound design: Joe Hunt

Masks: Michael Cummins and Belinda Seitz

With: John Carty, Niall Henry, Ciarán McCauley. Fiona McGeown and Sandra O’Malley