One woman’s journey towards death does not sound like a salubrious or entertaining way to pass an evening at the theatre. However, Marina Carr’s new play Woman and Scarecrow manages to show the slow struggle towards death in a truthful, even humorous light.
Fiona Shaw plays the Woman, who is reaching the end of her life after having given birth to eight children. Obviously worn out and exhausted, she laughs, cries, rages and reflects on her life. Towards the end she remarks: “Living is almost nothing and we brave little mortals invest so much in it” – in anyone but Shaw’s hands such sentiments would seem mawkish and melodramatic but she highlights beautifully the lyrical quality of Carr’s writing.
The Woman is helped along in this process by the mysterious Scarecrow, played marvellously by Brid Brennan, who forces the Woman to tell the truth about her past choices and berates her for the mistakes and missed chances of her life.
Carr never explains the Scarecrow, you are never sure if she is a morphine-induced alter ego, an internal voice, or some sort of guardian angel. However, Brennan makes her a playful, vicious and often very funny presence in the play; she sashays around the bed giving necessary light and movement to what is an otherwise static production.
Others visit the Woman’s deathbed. Him, played by Peter Gowen, is a monstrous misogynist and coward, both the glue that held the Woman’s life together and the acid that eventually destroyed it.
Stella McCusker plays Auntie Ah, a stern, uncompromising woman, who has many of the funniest lines in the play. On the surface severe and buttoned up, she is much softer at heart and, though she occasionally lapses into an Irish stereotype, she provides the play with its moral core.
Woman And Scarecrow may be short on action, but thanks to the strength of Carr’s words and Shaw’s performance, you become enfolded in its world. Refreshingly, you are given space in which to think and reflect on your own life, something that not many productions in the musical-saturated West End allow for at present.
Though much of the play entrances, too much of the second half feels like a return to the themes and thoughts of the first; this diminishes its power somewhat. Having said this, the conclusion is incredibly powerful and very moving indeed.
The upstairs space at the Royal Court is perfect for intimate, often claustrophobic work such as this. Though flawed and overlong, Ramin Gray’s production is bleak but not overwhelmingly so, a theatrical treat for those looking for drama capable of engaging the emotions.