Theatre Review: Standing ovation for ‘Sive’ as John B Keane classic returns to Derry

A scene from the Abbey Theatre's production of John B Keane's 'Sive' which wowed audiences at Derry's Millennium Forum last week.
A scene from the Abbey Theatre's production of John B Keane's 'Sive' which wowed audiences at Derry's Millennium Forum last week.

The Abbey Theatre made a triumphant start to its Irish tour of the John B. Keane classic ‘Sive’ when the cast earned a standing ovation at the Millennium Forum in Derry on Wednesday night last.

And it was well deserved.

Keane’s play may cast a jaundiced eye at Irish society in the 1950s, but it’s shot through with humour and insight, and this excellent cast were each given a chance to shine.

Overall, it’s a production to be proud of from Ireland’s national theatre company, from the direction by Conall Morrison through to everything happening on stage.

On the face of it, a story based on matchmaking in the rural Ireland of yesteryear seems an unlikely entertainment in 2014.

But Keane’s play wears the years well.

Its concerns will always be current - it’s a love story, a tale of lives twisted out of shape by circumstance and society, a caustic look at the dynamics of Irish family life.

Keane, a publican by trade, had a wonderful way with language and a rare insight into character.

Deirdre Molloy gives a powerful performance in the central role of Mena Glackin, a woman whose own burden of poverty and bitterness leads her to abandon all scruple when an old man seeks the hand of her niece, the orphan Sive (Roisin O’Neill).

The matchmaker Thomasheen Seán Rua, devious and funny and played to considerable effect by Simon O’Gorman, holds out the prospect of a big payday if the elderly farmer Seán Dota (Derry Power) gets Sive to the altar.

Mena’s husband Mike (Barry Barnes), good natured but spineless, colludes with the enterprise despite the entreaties of his mother, the elderly Nanna Glavin (Brid Ní Neachtain).

Nanna, sharp but well meaning, sees the romance in the love between Sive and local boy Liam Scuab (Gavin Drea).

Two travelling men (Frank O’Sullivan, Muiris Crowley) add noise, variety, song, commentary and fun during the play, an Irish version of the Greek chorus.

They’re a reminder from the earliest days of theatre that, when people anger the gods by acting in a selfish way, the gods will have their revenge.

The Abbey enjoyed stunning success with ‘Sive’ in Dublin earlier this year, when it was seen by around 30,000 people.

It’ll play to audiences in Letterkenny, Belfast and Dublin right through until December.