×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

By the Bog of Cats

There's something deeply unsettling about the primal howl that pours forth from Holly Hunter near the end of "By the Bog of Cats," the Irish play in which the very American thesp is making her U.K. stage debut. One has to commend Hunter: Her perf is nothing if not brave, however bizarre the context for it.

With:
Hester Swane - Holly Hunter Monica Murray - Sorcha Cusack Josie Kilbride - Kate Costello Mrs. Kilbride - Barbara Brennan Catwoman - Brid Brennan Carthage Kilbride - Gordon MacDonald Caroline Cassidy - Denise Gough The Ghost Fancier - Darren Greer

There’s something deeply unsettling about the primal howl that pours forth from Holly Hunter near the end of “By the Bog of Cats,” the Irish play in which the very American thesp is making her U.K. stage debut. Playing a feral mother who doesn’t take lightly to abandoned love, Hunter lets rip with a barely suppressed rage that doesn’t seem possible from someone so diminutive. The moment stills the house, not least because it punctures the blarney in which “Bog” is bogged down. One has to commend Hunter: Her perf is nothing if not brave, however bizarre the context for it.

Hunter previously starred in Marina Carr’s 1998 Dublin fest premiere at San Jose Rep in a 2001 production that was otherwise entirely different (fellow thesp Gordon MacDonald is the only other holdover). It’s easyto see the attraction of Carr’s aggrieved heroine, Hester Swane, to actresses looking for precisely those meaty roles that movies tend to mete out less regularly, especially as women get older. A Celtic Medea in everything but name who speaks a language marinated in Yeats and Synge, Hester comes from the bunny-boiler “Fatal Attraction” school of heroine in which films long have specialized, the discourse here lifted into the sort of overripe theatrical patois that performers surely relish — even if audiences may tire of it.

Carr’s other dramas generally play London venues like the Royal Court, which offer a cozier environment for the kind of heavy-going mysticism that sits murkily on a larger West End stage. Hester is first seen dragging the corpse of a black swan across designer Hildegard Bechtler’s bleakly stylized set, and it isn’t long before her encounter with a so-called Ghost Fancier (Darren Greer) hints strongly that Hester soon may be on her way toward corpse-land herself. (None too willingly, it must be said, with Hester insisting she is alive and intends “to stay that way.”)

For one thing, she doesn’t want to miss any opportunity to foul the path now trod by the grandly named Carthage Kilbride (a charismatic turn from MacDonald), Hester’s onetime lover and father to her 7-year-old daughter Josie (Kate Costello). “Carthage Kilbride is mine for always,” says Hester with a determination that exists to be subsequently denied.

In fact, Carthage is marrying one Caroline Cassidy (Denise Gough), the comely young daughter of local landowner Xavier (Trevor Cooper), and he fully expects to have Josie present at the wedding.

You needn’t have clocked Hester’s vaguely witchlike proclivities to guess how things progress, Gary Yershon’s mood music plaintively repeating what must be this least seductive of theatrical titles. (Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a title less appropriate for the textual workout “by the bog of cats” gets here.)

The characters trade threats and imprecations and pay due heed to portents, with Hester usefully informing Caroline, “I’m afraid of meself.” Scarcely less fearsome is Carr’s catalog of colorful rural eccentrics of the sort to make the Irish Tourist Board cringe. Chief among them is the unfortunately named Catwoman — no, not that one — whom Tony winner Brid Brennan (“Dancing at Lughnasa”) plays with an irreverent squint, her furry attire suggesting this play’s lone connection to some other theatrical cats of old.

A long wedding feast is amusingly dominated by Barbara Brennan as the mother-in-law from hell, even if this is one occasion in which in-laws matter substantially less than the intruder, Hester, who soon is leaping onto the banquet table in an attempt to settle scores.

On hand to help our heroine see reason is Sorcha Cusack in good form as the kindly neighbor, Monica Murray. But common sense means little to a psyche that has already known its share of bloodshed and slaughter and is ready for more.

The role of Hester is in every way a stretch for Hunter, whose gorgeous Southern drawl has never marked her out as having any kind of avidity for accents. (Her Oscar-winning Scotswoman in “The Piano” was mostly mute.) Thesp’s early lines in “Bog” elicited uncomfortable laughs from some audience members at the press-night perf, and it’s to Hunter’s credit that her undeniable commitment ultimately silenced those prepared to titter at some bizarre vowels.But those wayward sounds are simply the most obvious signs that Dominic Cooke’s hard-working production has yet to gel. In the end, Hunter and Co. are to be admired for attempting an aesthetic leap that Carr’s play, like that faux-mystical feline bog, proceeds to swallow up.

By the Bog of Cats

Wyndham's Theater, London; 740 seats; £39.50 $77 top

Production: A Sonia Friedman Prods., Waxman/Williams Entertainment and Mark Rubinstein presentation of a play in two acts by Marina Carr. Directed by Dominic Cooke.

Creative: Sets, Hildegard Bechtler; costumes, Nicky Gillibrand; lighting, Jean Kalman; music, Gary Yershon; sound, Gareth Fry; movement, Liz Ranken. Opened, reviewed Dec. 1, 2004. Running time: 2 HOURS, 15 MIN.

Cast: Hester Swane - Holly Hunter Monica Murray - Sorcha Cusack Josie Kilbride - Kate Costello Mrs. Kilbride - Barbara Brennan Catwoman - Brid Brennan Carthage Kilbride - Gordon MacDonald Caroline Cassidy - Denise Gough The Ghost Fancier - Darren GreerWith: Warren Rusher, Trevor Cooper, Adam Best, Patrick Waldron, Aoife Madden, Colette Kelly.

More Legit

  • The American Clock review

    London Theater Review: 'The American Clock'

    Time is money. Money is time. Both come unstuck in “The American Clock.” Arthur Miller’s kaleidoscopic account of the Great Depression, part autobiography, part social history, crawls through the decade after the Wall Street crash, dishing up snapshots of daily life. In the Old Vic’s classy revival, director Rachel Chavkin (“Hadestown”) tunes into the play’s [...]

  • Jake Gyllenhaal

    Off Broadway Review: Jake Gyllenhaal in 'Sea Wall/A Life'

    Comfy? Okay, let’s talk Death: sudden death, painful death, lingering death, accidental death, and whatever other kinds of death happen to come into the receptive minds of playwrights Simon Stephens (“Sea Wall”) and Nick Payne (“A Life”). The writing in these separate monologues — playing together on a double bill at the Public Theater — [...]

  • Michael Jackson Estate Cancels Musical Test-Run

    Michael Jackson Estate Cancels Musical Test-Run

    With an HBO documentary that places strong allegations of abuse against Michael Jackson premiering in two weeks, the late singer’s estate announced Thursday that it’s canceling a scheduled Chicago test run of a jukebox musical about him. The estate and its producing partner in the musical, Columbia Live Stage, said that they’re setting their sights on going [...]

  • All About Eve review

    West End Review: Gillian Anderson and Lily James in 'All About Eve'

    To adapt a crass old adage: it’s “All About Eve,” not “All About Steve.” Stripping Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s sharp-witted screenplay about a waning theater star of its period trappings, Ivo van Hove’s stage adaptation fine-tunes its feminism for our own sexist age — image-obsessed, anti-aging, the time of Time’s Up. Rather than blaming Lily James’ [...]

  • Adam Shankman

    Listen: Why Adam Shankman Directs Every Movie Like It's a Musical

    Director Adam Shankman’s latest movie, the Taraji P. Henson comedy “What Men Want,” isn’t a musical. But as one of Hollywood’s top director-choreographers of musicals and musical sequences, he approaches even non-musicals with a sense of tempo. Listen to this week’s podcast below: More Reviews Sundance Film Review: Stephen K. Bannon in 'The Brink' Film [...]

  • Matthew Bourne's 'Cinderella' Review

    L.A. Theater Review: Matthew Bourne's 'Cinderella'

    How much can you change “Cinderella” before it is no longer “Cinderella”? In the case of choreography maestro Matthew Bourne — who, it should be said, first unveiled his spin on the classic folk tale some 22 years ago — the music is most certainly “Cinderella” (Prokofiev’s 1945 score, to be exact), but the plot [...]

  • 'Pinter Seven' Review: Martin Freeman Stars

    West End Review: 'Pinter Seven' Starring Martin Freeman

    “Pinter at the Pinter” has been an education — a crash course in Britain’s greatest post-war playwright. Director-producer Jamie Lloyd’s star-studded, six-month sprint through Harold Pinter’s short plays and sketches has been exquisitely curated and consistently revelatory. Not only has Lloyd tuned audiences into the writer’s technique, his unconventional groupings have exposed a load of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content