Mixed Marriage

St John Ervine
Finborough Theatre
(2011)

Mixed Marriage publicity image

It is deeply depressing to consider that the issues addressed by St John Ervine in Mixed Marriage have changed little in the century since its creation and setting in 1911.

In the last few years, sectarian hatred in Belfast may have eased off but equivalent troubles are prevalent in so many other places.

Without wishing to be too unkind, this isn't a great piece of drama, since Ervine was clearly more interested in his political message than the structure through which it is delivered.

His ingredients are potent, as the play addresses the gulf between Catholics and Protestants in the city, using the medium of the Rainey family. At the same time, the inequities of capitalism and the ups and downs of sexual politics get an airing.

Daragh O'Malley's John Rainey is a real bull of a Protestant working man, who accepts the deprivations of striking for longer term benefits. His long-suffering wife, played by Fiona Victory, is one of those female martyrs of yesteryear who keep the home but are never even addressed by name. After a couple of decades of marriage, she has got used to his ways, meekly but not mutely accepting her lot.

The next generation are also pretty pig-headed though in a rather more enlightened way. Christopher Brandon as Hugh has not only a Papish (sic) friend, Damien Hannaway playing a heroic political firebrand called Mickey O'Hara, but worse, a girl with similar religious leanings.

Unexpectedly, it becomes apparent that John is a potential political leader who has the ability to change history. We are asked to accept that this taciturn non-thinker can move the world through the power of speeches that he shows no sign of having the mental capacity to conceive or oratorical skills to deliver when observed at home.

The stakes are raised when John discovers that Hugh and Nora-Jane Noone's Nora are to marry across the religious divide and he then creates a moral dilemma worthy of a chess grandmaster.

His actions lead to a pitched battle outside the family home and an ending that is equally symbolic and silly.

Mixed Marriage is worth seeing for the political polemic but some uneven acting and the soapiness of its plotting mean that the play comes across more as a historical curiosity than a major rediscovery.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher