The Sanctuary Lamp @ Arcola Theatre, London

cast list
Kate Brennan, Declan Conlon, Bosco Hogan, Robert OMahoney

written and directed by
Tom Murphy
If it is the case that Tom Murphy’s The Sanctuary Lamp caused outrage when first performed in 1975, it is difficult today to understand why it caused such a fuss.

Set in the dark recesses of a Catholic church during the middle of the night for the most part we see former strongman Harry, prone to acts of aggravation when roused, unable to hold down a job, become the church clerk.

He then meets the waif-like Maudie, who is hiding from her abusive grandfather and who wants to remain there till morning. As Harry works on building up a relationship with the child-like woman, his nemesis, Francisco the juggler, appears, ready to fill up on communion wine and bare his soul.
It sounds like an interesting proposition, but in reality its really not. While Monica Frawley’s set is undoubtedly attractive, complete with pews, sanctuary lamp and confessional, Murphy’s play (which he also directs) is unfortunately overlong and overly dull. It proves a struggle to sit through, a damp squib of an evening with little laughter and few tears.

Harry is played bombastically by a lumbering Robert OMahoney, in a way that might be appropriate for a Shakespearian drama, but that seems overplayed in the somewhat dead space of the Arcolas Studio 1, while Kate Brennans Maudie is irritating rather than sympathetic, her monotonous voice grating as Maudie reveals her traumatic past. Bosco Hogan as the Monsignor is given far too little to do.

The saving grace is Declan Conlons Francisco, who brings a great deal of balance and warmth to his character as he and Harry rant into the night.

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