Theatre Review: Undemanding charm of Far Off Hills

By Emer O’Kelly Sunday Independent 08/12/2014

Why has Lennox Robinson been so neglected and under-rated by Irish theatre over the years; apart from his being Protestant, neurotic, and a bit spiteful, that is?

Those personal qualities didn’t make him unique among playwrights and directors in Ireland,  or within the Abbey. But his writing talent glowed, and came damn close to being unique in its wry, understated observance of small-town and rural Irish society in the first half of the 20th Century. His plays are set in the Ireland in which he grew up – middle-class families of comfortable means, with conservatories, tennis courts, and pretty gardens.

Robinson hit the nail on that head, whether in serious or comic vein, and most of the time, there was a faint but recognisable core of irony in the work which saved its gentle perspicacity from disintegrating into sentimentality.

So Loco and Reckless Productions (in association with the Nomad network) are doing a considerable service in their current tour by re-introducing audiences to The Far Off Hills, in an only slightly tongue-in- cheek production by Mikel Murfi, with the four cast members playing all 10 characters….and very creditably indeed.

Nowadays, Hollywood would call the play a romcom, with the young(ish) widower Patrick Clancy nobly writing himself off as husband material because he is awaiting a cataract operation on his eyes, and is currently (and possibly permanently) blind. (This is 1928.)

Sanctimonious 22-year- old eldest daughter Marion wants to be a nun, but is sacrificing herself on the altar of family duty to care for him and her two flighty teenage sisters, neither of whom is particularly grateful for the sacrifice. And then there’s lovely, staunch (and not quite on the shelf) family friend Susie. And to add to the mix, Susie’s dashing 22-year-old nephew hoves into view.

It’s lovely, undemanding, charming fun delivered with considerably adroit aplomb, particularly by Steve Blount in the two main male roles, and Niamh McGrath as Susie and young “Pet”, with Caoimhe O’Malley as prissy Marian, and Julie Sharkey completing the cast. It’s lit by Nick McCall and designed by Sabine Dargent.

The Far Off Hills was at Draiocht in Blanchardstown, and will tour to Longford, Castlebar, Letterkenny, and Virginia, Co Cavan.

Sunday Independent