By David Hennessy
Abigail Graham’s new production of Brian Friel’s Molly Sweeney shows why The Print Room has become one of the most exciting fringe venues in London.
The play centres around its title character and the measures that are taken to restore her sight. Blind since infancy, Molly has been happy in her own world until her husband Frank and ophthalmologist Mr. Rice discover that Molly’s eyes are not beyond repair. But the new world that has been opened up to Molly is both “terrifying” and disappointing and lead her to withdraw, not to her old world which is gone, but to a state in between the two.
Molly, played by Dorothy Duffy of The Magdalene Sisters, is the play’s calm centre. Describing her world, her joy of swimming and memories of identifying flowers with her father, it is plain she feels she is not “missing anything” by not being able to see. A poignant moment comes late in the play when Molly realises that the flowers she has always loved are not as beautiful to the eye. Dorothy’s performance is powerful and visual, using the set at hand such as a swing and a tree to convey her changing emotions.
Told through monologues, it is the contributions of Ruairi Conaghan and Stuart Graham, as Frank and Mr. Rice, that are most revealing.
Once an outstanding professional, Mr.Rice has been left an alcoholic wreck after his wife left him for another ophthalmologist and friend. Now working at a rundown hospital in Ballybeg, he candidly reveals his motives for taking Molly’s case are selfish: To restore his former brilliance even if it is only temporary. The actor Stuart Graham spoke to The Irish World about his preparation and observing ophthalmologists and this has certainly stood him in good stead as his character talks about the subject. His performance as the fallen professional is moving and it is hard not to feel sympathetic when he reveals the guilt he feels over Molly at the end.
While Frank is a likeable character and provides the comic relief, the audience has to question if Molly is just another of his good natured projects such as his Iranian sheep and volunteering in Ethiopia. A late parable about removing badgers from their set and the disaster it turns into, serves as a metaphor for how wrong he and Mr Rice were to meddle with Molly’s happy life, even if Frank himself does not seem to realise the similarity.
Written when Friel himself was suffering from cataracts, the play rings true on both the subject of disability and people’s treatment of those with disabilities and is done justice to by great performances.
Molly Sweeney is at The Print Room until April 27. For more information, go to: http://www.the-print-room.org/.