Theatre Review - Portia Coughlan

Mairead KcKinley and Alison Oliver in Portia Coughlan [Marc Brenner]

MARINA Carr’s 1996 play about family trauma is relentlessly bleak. Portia (Alison Oliver) still grieves the loss of her twin brother Gabriel who drowned 15 years earlier. Married with children to Raphael (Chris Walley), she cannot bond with any of them.

Set in the Irish midlands, it’s Portia’s 30th birthday and she’s already tucking into the brandy after breakfast – her husband and children forgotten. She’s beautiful but cold and openly disdainful of Raphael.

Portia lurches from home to bar to her beloved countryside and river. There she encounters, and dismisses, the men she’s slept with or taunted.

Her lover Damus (Charlie Kelly) who she’s been seeing throughout her marriage and the cocky barman, Fintan (Conor MacNeill) who openly lusts after her. They’ve known each other for years and this sense of a stifling closeknit community is vividly conveyed in Carrie Cracknell’s production.

Portia comes from a dysfunctional family with dark secrets at its heart. She’s scathing towards her farmer father, Sly (Mark O Halloran), and careworn mother (Mairead McKinley). They’re all desperately cruel to each other with the grandmother (a memorable Sorcha Cusack) particularly poisonous.

Meanwhile, the voice of her dead brother haunts Portia throughout, expressed in original compositions by Maimuna Memon, beautifully sung by Archee Aitch Wylie.

We yearn for a change in tone and Carr grants us some respite in the second half, which is more nuanced and hints at the woman Portia might have become if she had not been driven by her demons. We learn about the trauma that has plagued her family.

Portia Coughlan is well-acted by a top-notch cast, although lines were occasionally so softly spoken to be inaudible. Flashes of dark humour punctuate this intense psychological drama.

Until November 18

Originally published by Islington Tribune