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She Stoops to Folly

By Tom Murphy
Directed by Patrick Mason

Article 41 of Bunreacht Na hEireann reads, ‘The State recognises the Family as the natural primary and fundamental unit group of Society,...’, and in She Stoops To Folly, based on Oliver Goldsmith’s The Vicar Of Wakefield, we meet the Primrose family, who are a family-in-trouble, a family-under-pressure. This is because the paterfamilias, (Jim Norton in a solid performance as the eponymous Vicar), has lost his living, and is forced to take to the road with his family in tow to seek alternative employment. From then on disaster follows disaster, until he winds up in a debtors’ prison, with his son supposedly a murderer and his daughter supposedly dead.









It’s a scenario which traces it lineage obviously back to the Old Testament Book of Job and to Voltaire’s Candide, that of the good man ill treated by a cruel and uncaring fate, who calls on God to make things better, or at least explain why they are as bad as they are. This would be taken further by Beckett’s anti-heroes, who have no God left to call upon.
This is the second attempt at a rereading of the Goldsmith novel by Tom Murphy, the man some people, myself included, regard as the greatest living Irish playwright. However, She Stoops To Folly does not possess the range and profundity of Murphy’s finest work, like The Sanctuary Lamp, The Gigli Concert or Bailegangaire. It is too much of a ‘fun night out at the theatre’ to probe fully the philosophical issues it raises so tantalisingly.
The most dramatically effective moment is when, midway through the second half, we return to the scene with which the play started, in the debtors’ prison. There the Vicar prepares to give his sermon to the inmates, and when he does he addresses the audience. At the end he blesses us, and tells us to return to our cells.
Aside from the Vicar, there are good performances from Frank McCusker as the campy, villainous Mr Thornhill, and David Herlihy as the bumptious, mysterious Mr Burchill. The set design, by the Abbey Theatre Workshop, is also excellent.
She Stoops To Folly doesn’t overtax the mind or overstretch the imagination, but is a fine production nonetheless.

First published in 46A









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