I first read J.B. Keane’s Sive a few years ago. I immediately fell in love with his masterpiece. The play is set in 1950’s Ireland. It is a time of harsh poverty and people are measured in terms of the land and the crops they possess. Throughout the play there are various references to the fear of the poorhouse and the reality of poverty.
Marriage, and indeed love, are viewed in pragmatic terms in relation to ones possessions. At the time matchmakers were popular and local trade flourished.
The land is an important feature of this play! Running throughout the play are the themes of greed, lust and ambition at any cost!
Today I expected to be impressed with The Abbey Theatre;s production in the Millennium Forum Derry. However, nothing prepared me for what I witnessed. This was Irish theatre at its very best.
The stage setting set the scene. It was dramatic in appearance and yet it worked, and I felt like I was actually sitting beside the fire. I could smell the embers as the grandmother poked at them for her secret smoke!
Keane’s play follows the lives of this family thrown together by tragedy. Mena is married to Mike and lives with him and his mother . Mena and her mother in law don’t get along (an understatement). Mike’s adopted illegitimate niece has suffered under Mena since coming to the Glavin household after her mother’s death. Sive’s plight is accelerated by the interference of Thomasheen Sean Rua, looking to marry off the 18 year old to the wealthy decrepit Séan Dóta for the financial gain of Mena and himself. This business deal will drive the young girl to take her own life!
The drama flowed with the swift winding rhythm of the text. The language was lyrical, musical, and yet hauntingly funny. It allowed the full horror of the story unfold on the stage. The tension is ever present and rises until the very end. When Sive disappears on the night before her wedding the tension is at its peak. This tension was mirrored in the audience today. I could feel it seeping through.
Today’s performance was for schools so the theatre was packed with quite a few students. Some of them are currently studying Sive, others were there to watch one of the greatest plays of the twentieth century come alive on the Derry stage. I was intrigued how the young people were so silent at certain points. In particular when Liam Scuab carried the body of Sive into the kitchen at the end. I’m sure it wasn’t just me who had a tear in my eye. It was heartbreaking. At other times the students were talking among themselves and yet laughed at the humour. It’s amazing how they can multi-task (whisper, snigger and yet listen)! They didn’t miss a word.
At times the drama was farce like, at others it was eerily tense. And at the very end it was pure tragic.
For me the heroine is undoubtedly Sive who is clearly a passive victim of the self-interest and selfishness of others.
Irish literature and drama is at the fore of world culture. It has been for many years. This production only serves to explain why Irish writing and theatre is the best in the world.
Would I recommend a viewing of this play? Most definitely.