The Home Place

Brian Friel
Produced by the Gate Theatre, Dublin
Comedy Theatre
(2005)

The Home Place publicity image

This is the play that Anton Chekhov never quite wrote about a trip to Donegal in 1878 that didn't make it into any biography. But for the accents, you could swear that The Home Place was written by the good literary doctor.

This transfer from the Gate Theatre in Dublin features dotty rich folk about to be disenfranchised and a madly arrogant doctor, and is packed with Chekhovian symbols including a falcon (not quite a seagull) and historic woods that are destined to go the way of their owners. In Peter McKintosh's period set, these last are seen from the vantage point of a boozy garden picnic that could as easily be set in Russia as Eire.

The slow build-up introduces us to a time of revolutionary danger and an estate peopled by an unworldly landowner and his family. Christopher Gore is played by a prototypical Tom Courtenay. Gore's son David (Hugh O'Connor) is an insipid fantasist while brother Dr Richard is an anthropologist supremacist who would like to prove that the natives have not evolved far beyond their simian origins.

All three colonialists would be far better off at the ancestral Home Place in Kent but, as always in these situations, Christopher at least would feel less at home there than amongst the starving natives in the North of Ireland.

The family's position is threatened from within by their mutual love of devoted housekeeper, Margaret, well played by Dearbhle Crotty, and from without by her Nationalist cousin Con (Adam Fergus) and all that he represents.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the play is a sight of the origins of the Troubles that are still with us a century and a quarter later. To be fair, one look at Nick Dunning's bombastic and terribly English Richard Gore would have been enough to persuade any self-respecting local that he and his like must be driven back across the water, at whatever cost.

This is a fairly slight piece but its clever construction ensures that it becomes deeply moving as it approaches its denouement and the end of an era. From this time on, the landowning English incomers would be forced to give way to their "serfs".

Adrian Noble directs a good cast with solid Courtenay moving up a gear at the death, after Christopher, like his trees, is marked for destruction. He is well supported, especially by Miss Crotty and the splendid Leagh Conwell as perky guttersnipe, Tommy Boyle.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher