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Dublin, Gate Theatre
February 1 - April 2, 2005
London Comedy Theatre
May 7 - August 27, 2005
Hugh O'Conor, Tom Courtenay, Derbhle Crotty
Though Dancing at Lughnasa, Translations and Aristocrats have all enjoyed recent
revivals, The Home Place is Brian Friels first new Irish play since the
turn of the century. Friel has been spending most of his time adapting Chekov in
productions like Uncle Vanya, The Yalta Game, and Two Plays After. Now, finally, even the
title of his latest work comes laden with meaning and even irony as he returns
The Home Place is another in Friels cycle of historical
tragedies depicting the British plantation of Ireland as a chronic misreading of the land
and its people. In Translations the controlling metaphor was mapmaking and
placenaming; in Aristocrats it was historical biography. In The Home Place, 19th
century eugenic theories are the means through which the English seek to measure the
Irish, and once again the incongruence of cultures is underlined by the failure of the
measuring system to account for the true nature of its subject.
The action takes place in Ballybeg, Co. Donegal, in 1878, sandwiched in
an historical timeline between Translations and Aristocrats. Christopher
Gore (Tom Courtenay) is a well-meaning English landlord whose cousin Richard (Nick
Dunning) has come with the intention of pursuing a scientific inquiry. Inspired by
Darwinism, and more particularly Sir Francis Galtons spin-off theories
of human racial classification, Dr. Core intends to survey the anthropometry of the
indigenous Irish. By measuring their craniums and other skeletal characteristics, he hopes
to crack the genetic code of the indigenes, demonstrating their (inferior) place in the
natural order and scientifically predicting their (potentially dangerous) behavior.
Christopher sees his cousins arrogant presumption as a bit of harmless English
eccentricity, but not so some of the locals, including paramilitaries lurking in the woods
around the Gore estate.
The plays most heart-rending scene takes place when Richard,
assisted by the taciturn and bowler-hatted Perkins (Pat Kinevane) surveys a small child
while Christopher makes game attempts to put her at ease with encouraging compliments.
Neither man really understands the abject derogation inherent in the enterprise--one
because he doesnt care and one because he simply doesnt know the difference.
The folly of it is doubly underlined partly by the audiences historical distance
from the methodology (and, as the program reminds us, the fact that such eugenic theories
reached their nadir in Nazi Germany), but also in the brief appearance of Clement
ODonnell, the drunken and bedraggled father of Christophers housekeeper
Margaret (Derbhle Crotty). ODonnell is master of a local choir, and he points out
that songsmith Thomas Moore was closer to finding the measure of the Irish soul than any
scientific test could ever be, an observation met with derisive laughter by the
This is a play rich in detail and contextual allusion. There are some
excellent passages of dialogue, and though many elements are perhaps overly familiar, the
prevailing tone of sadness which director Adrian Noble sustains throughout is affecting.
It is a contemplative piece, concentrating less on the slow burn of suspense provided by
the underlying historical narrative of the Land War (it begins with Christopher off-stage
at the funeral of a local landlord murdered by revolutionaries) and more on the internal
dialogue with the planters sense of self in this place which is never
"home." Christopher fears death, but on another level he realizes the futility
of life itself, of the life his "home" country created for his family long ago
and which he has inherited replete with a legacy of shame and displacement.
Tom Courtenays beautifully realized performance captures the many
dimensions of the landlord both as character and as symbol. His delicate vocal
characterization invites sympathy, but his bursts of fear and desperation demonstrate the
tensions that underscore this colonial society. Nick Dunning (The Homecoming) gets good mileage from his
usual range of disdainful anglophone physical and vocal cues, but McGovern virtually
steals the show during his brief appearance, mixing dignity and degradation in a
significant and meaningful manner. Derbhle Crotty (Sive) is a quietly significant presence as the
housekeeper secretly loved by her master and less secretly so by his son David (Hugh
OConnor). With a fully due sense of historical irony, her character draws together
many of the threads of drama, metaphor, and social analysis in the play, although hers is
a secondary role in terms of action.
Dublin, February 8, 2005