Four Heaney-inspired tales hit the stage, reports Lisa Fitzpatrick
Big Telly's Bog People opens with a chorus, as mist rolls over a set painted with an expressionistic backdrop of human faces textured with peat, blending the human and the land.
Stacks of turf covered in cloth form walls, benches, and the ragged landscape of the bog. Designed by Stu Marshall and lit by Conleth White, the set provides an eerie, abstract backdrop to the action, facilitating the movement between different times and different stories.
Bog People comprises five pieces of writing, linked by their common themes of love, loss, grief and joy. Directed by Zoë Seaton and performed by a strong cast of six: Barbara Adair, John Hewitt, Vincent Higgins, Claire Lamont, Michael Lavery and Aine O’Sullivan, each playing multiple roles.
The production is inspired by the Bog poems of Seamus Heaney. Big Telly commissioned Lucy Caldwell, Nicola McCartney and Francis Turnly to write short plays inspired by the poetry, which Zoë Seaton had long wanted to work on. She describes Heaney's poems as 'incredibly evocative' and finds the people suggested in them very real.
Seaton's production echoes Heaney's questions about justice, revenge, grief, life and death, the tragedy of the Troubles, and the challenge of moving beyond them. And the characters are more than echoes of people long dead. Their comical vanities and passions are given contemporary significance, making them relevant to a contemporary audience.
Francis Turnly's 'Bogland' crosses four different historical times to link the ritual sacrifice of a young girl named Maebh, concubine of the King, with a modern couple whose unfulfilled love for each other echoes Maebh's passion for a handsome young warrior. This opens the production with a sense of place and history.
The following pieces then move the play towards a contemporary history of loss and violence. 'Toner's Bog', written by Lucy Caldwell, is a clever, humorous piece that suddenly turns to poignancy, as a grandfather reveals an old sadness to his grandson. The resonances of the Troubles, and of the dead who are missing, is continued in Nicola McCartney's 'Kinship', and her final piece, 'Field of Vision', is beautifully performed by Barbara Adair.
Bog People manages to be funny, warm, and sad all at the same time. Framed by the chorus that echoes lines from the plays, evoking different periods of time and bringing the four stories together, the final moments of the performance speak to the recent history of NI. Yet the effect is not only of sorrow, but also of a shared sense of the task ahead, moving beyond the conflict and the violence to find common ground. Bog People is another moving and imaginative production from a talented theatre company.