Woman and Scarecrow

Blood in the Alley presents 'Woman and Scarecrow' by Marina Carr.

Blood in the Alley presents 'Woman and Scarecrow' by Marina Carr.

Blood in the Alley presents 'Woman and Scarecrow' by Marina Carr.

Blood in the Alley presents 'Woman and Scarecrow' by Marina Carr.

Blood in the Alley presents 'Woman and Scarecrow' by Marina Carr.

Blood in the Alley presents 'Woman and Scarecrow' by Marina Carr.

“Ophelia now. She had a good death.” In Woman and Scarecrow, playwright Marina Carr has moved from dramatizing the tragic Irish family to the flawed and somewhat bitter individual, Woman, seeking to give her ‘a good death’. This good death boasts of all the rawness, spite and mystery that only a Carr theatrical journey can offer. Dealing with the discourses of feminism and mortality in an Irish marital bedroom, Woman (Joan Sheehy) and her alter ego/inner consciousness ‘Scarecrow’ (Noelle Brown), reminisce and interrogate Woman’s faults and follies in her too-short life, from marrying the wrong man ‘Him’ (Mark O’Regan), to hiding behind her children, and refusing to be happy.

Woman is a tripartite character who remains onstage throughout, comprising Woman, Scarecrow and Death - played as the rattle and roar from “the thing in the wardrobe”. This is a play concerned with the magic of the universe, the potential of the individual and the demands of housekeeping, and these varied dynamics maintain an odd theatrical balance in performance. Entrances and exits are made by Him, and Auntie Ah (Geraldine Plunkett), and we are told that Woman’s eight children, whiskey-thirsty west of Ireland relatives, and Father Gant are also present in the house, though the audience never meets these other people or rooms. From Woman’s ponderings of decomposing corpses in Connemara graveyards, one quickly interprets Carr’s refusal to unleash sentimentality in the face of this woman’s extinction. Final sentiments from this family include Auntie Ah’s bark, “nurse my scald dear as I’ve nursed yours”, Him’s pleading, “Die if you’re going to, if not, get up”, and the children fed up staying home from nightclubs.

Delighting the audience with his weak spirit, O’Regan’s portrayal of Him is a treat from the beginning of Woman’s death to her end. O’Regan delivers a wonderfully whiny self-pity, elevating the energy of the performance with his biting comedic timing and hot pink socks, probably stolen from his children. This is a man no woman would credibly want to marry, and helps an audience understand to an extent Woman’s motive for an early exit.

Plunkett’s mean, resentful Auntie Ah also shines through, and resonates with an older, perhaps more brutal, Ireland. As she admits, “the times have softened and me with them”. Sheehy and Brown deliver power in their performances, never faltering in energy or gusto. Their relationship is fundamental to the success of any production of this play and they attempt to connect in timing, spirit and motive. Yet, for a woman dying of spite, Sheehy is remarkably upbeat in tone, as is most of the production, and strangely, appears in the best of health.

Regrettably, the force of metaphysical power that pervades Carr’s language is not equally matched in visual spectacle. The floor is covered in a lino-type material, suggesting Him might have a right to complain over Woman’s exuberant Visa bills from crocodile-skin boots. The bed and cd player are on stage, as required by the dramatic text, but there the visual dramatization ends. Where is the landscape of Woman’s desperation and death? Where is the connection between the living world and something else, something bigger? With the exception of the spooky wardrobe and Scarecrow’s final costume change, the remainder of the scenography offers a naturalistic space in an undeniably non-naturalistic play. Without changes in lighting to signal movement in dramatic tone, the limited scenography of this production would struggle to match the boldness of the action.

Under Geoff Gould's direction, Blood in the Alley’s production strongly engages with the dominant themes of this play, particularly highlighting the capacity for comedy in the face of death. Yet Carr’s play runs on a tone of despair and darkness, slinking along the veins of mortal thought that most of us quash to our deepest recesses - such as a wasted life, living a lie with an unwanted spouse, rats eating away one’s flesh and bone in the coffin. The laughter should be black and bitter, not light as it is here. The humour stems from the unwanted and often unspoken truths that Woman confronts, about Irish society, sex, marriage, family, womanhood. It is the depth and courage inherent in Woman’s personal acknowledgments that feels absent here.

Moreover, after ninety minutes of hearing of Woman’s life, her confessions and her approaching annihilation, I was less concerned with her death, guiltily hoping Him and his pink socks would re-enter the stage and delight some more. Undoubtedly, this was not Carr’s intention with Woman and Scarecrow.

Miriam Haughton lectures in Theatre Studies at UCD and NUIG.

  • Review
  • Theatre

Woman and Scarecrow by Marina Carr

3 Sept - 5 Oct, 2012 (on tour)

Produced by Blood in the Alley Productions
In Civic Theatre

Directed by Geoff Gould

Sound Design: Niall Toner

Costume Design: Anna-Olivia Monaghan

With: Joan Sheehy, Noelle Brown, Geraldine Plunkett, Mark O’Regan