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  • Chris O'Rourke

To the Lighthouse

Derbhle Crotty in To the Lighthouse. Image Darragh Kane


Language, its flow, density, and malleability is vital to Virginia Woolf's 1927 classic To the Lighthouse. So when Hatch Theatre Company's production commences with crashing waves drowning out words, immediately followed by an overbearing musical soundtrack, portents aren't good. Whatever Marina Carr is trying to establish in the opening moments of her adaptation gets mostly lost. But cause for concern is momentary, for Carr eventually takes over. And when she does she matches Woolf's modernist eloquence with an eloquence uniquely her own, delivering a play whose prose shows all the power of poetry.

Arguably Carr's best adaptation to date, To the Lighthouse remains faithful to the narrative thrust of Woolf's original, even as Carr adds some twists and ideas of her own. Set over two visits spaced ten years apart, The Ramsey family visit their holiday home in the Hebrides hoping to pay a visit to the local lighthouse. In the intervening years there's the First World War, a number of deaths, and new accommodations to be made. Most especially that of Mr Ramsey adjusting to the loss of the exceptional Mrs Ramsey. A relationship which defines, taints, and informs all other relationships.

Declan Conlon and Aoife Duffin in To the Lighthouse. Image Darragh Kane

While events are important, they serve to inform ideas, of which Carr, like Woolf, has an abundance. Throughout, the plight of women as artists, as mothers, as desired or not desired is writ large and questioned. As is marriage, seen as the end of it all and the end all and be all. Along with art, death, love, validation, male and female insecurities; the list goes on. Creating a labyrinth of themes explored rather than shallowly skipped over. Poetically crafted to allow you pick your own pathway, to follow whatever mantra of meaning resonates most. Yielding recognised realisations and fresh discoveries, not all of which are comfortable.

Yet all of which are incredibly rich in theatricality, courtesy of top drawer direction from Annabelle Comyn, and director of photography José Miguel Jiménez. The visual aesthetic often recalling Peter Greenaway at his best, with Aedín Cosgrove's design looking painstakingly brilliant. Housing some powerful performances, most especially an electrifying Derbhle Crotty whose Mrs Ramsey leaves you speechless. Which is saying something, given the calibre of performances from Declan Conlon as Mr Ramsey, Aoife Duffin as Lily, Olwen Fouéré as Augustus Carmichael and a divine Nick Dunning as William Banks and Mrs McNabb, each one extraordinary to say the least.

Nick Dunning and Olwen Fouéré in To the Lighthouse. Image Darragh Kane

At just over two hours To the Lighthouse asks a little indulgence, more so if you're not a Woolf fan. But it rewards like few others. Under Comyn's assured direction the juxtaposition of a stiff upper exterior with a jumbled unsettled interior is wonderfully rendered; clashing conscious with unconscious, text with subtext, thought with expression, art with life. Carr's inclusion of a cameo from Virginia and Leopold Woolf will surely raise comparisons with Michael Cunningham's 1998 novel The Hours, which explores Woolf's writing of Mrs Dalloway. But any comparison leaves The Hours looking like the poor relation. In To the Lighthouse Crotty, Carr and Comyn craft an extraordinary tour de force. Capturing that which cannot be captured in language, and putting on stage, and screen, that which cannot be seen. Unmissable.

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, adapted by Marina Carr, presented by Hatch Theatre Company and The Everyman, in association with Pavilion Theatre and Cork Midsummer Festival, is available on demand as part of Cork Midsummer Festival till June 27.

For more information visit Cork Midsummer Festival.


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