Woman and Scarecrow

Engaging, instructionary tale of regret and rancour

Marina Carr has long been one of Ireland's most celebrated, and prolific, playwrights. Shame then that her work has rarely crossed the border. 

Northern audiences have had to make do with a production of By the Bog of Cats in the Botanic Garden's Palm House and precious little else: that is until Woman and Scarecrow, an engaging, at times oppressive tale of bitterness and rancour produced by Belfast's Prime Cut Productions.

In a simple room, with only a wardrobe and some rudimentary bedroom furniture for company, a mother of eight children, beholden to a serially unfaithful husband, lies dying.

Through a morphine fog Woman bitterly tells her soul (Scarecrow) of her regrets – 'The world has not yielded all that I had hoped for.'

Although, as Carr commented, the play is largely 'a dialogue between self and soul', there is to be no slip into solipsism. In her final hours Woman is forced to endure visits from her husband, the weak, supine Him, eager to assuage his own guilt. Her spiteful, elderly Auntie Ah also calls to admonish her for 'this wilful jaunt to your doom'.

Set in an undefined locale east of the Shannon, the play shares a timeless, atemporal feel with Carr’s earlier work: only the reference to a Visa-bill from a shoe shopping spree concretely dates it.

Echoes of Public and Private Gar in Friel’s Philadelphia Here I Come! resonate in the Woman/Scarecrow duality. Once again Carr’s work also invites comparison with Shakespeare: where King Lear loomed large over The Cordelia Dream, Hamlet’s spirit is present here, particularly in the grisly denouement.

Carr’s writing possesses a thrilling, poetic lyricism, though during the first act director Emma Jordan is unable to prevent the play from feeling somewhat one-paced.

The oppression of the first half lifts after the interval as the black humour typical of works like Portia Coughlan comes to the fore – 'Happiness!...Sure, it’s only a recent invention of the Sunday newspapers,' barks Auntie Ah at the rancorous, dying Woman.

The cast cope admirably with the shifting tone. Well-judged central performances from Gina Moxley (Woman) and Kathy Kiera Clarke (Scarecrow) effectively convey the deep seated regrets of an unhappy life approaching its end. 

Craig Bagnall manages to create a set that is full of echoes of the play's dark, threatening subject matter.
The wardrobe, fairy-tale site of death, dominates the centre of the stage, and the branches of the tree that forms the back wall are suggestive of the complex web of familial dysfunction at the play’s core.

At over two and a quarter hours the play is probably overlong – but its message that love and life should be cherished not wasted is surely worth making time to hear. 

Peter Geoghegan

Woman and Scarecrow is currently touring the country. Check out Culture Live! listings for more information.