Set on a dark lit sunken stage, Portia Coughlan is a play that lurks in the back of your mind for days after.
Portia Coughlan follows the story of Offaly woman, Portia (Denise Gough), on her thirtieth birthday. Although she is married with two kids, she is haunted by the death of her twin brother Gabriel. Written by Marina Carr, this play first hit the stage in 1996 where it was directed by Garry Hynes. This magnificent revival, now directed by Caroline Byrne, still takes place in the nineties yet manages to keep itself relevant to an audience in 2022.
The play sets the mood from the beginning with Portia clearly an alcoholic with a fatalistic view on life that persists throughout the play. Although, the play makes sure to break the tension at several points with comedy from characters like Maggie May (Anna Healy) and her partner Senchíl (Gary Murphy). The set for this play engages the audience straight away, with descending stairs and cold bog-like surfaces acting as the Coughlan kitchen. A trough of water acts as the river that haunts Portia’s family which further engrosses the audience in the world of the play.
Denise Gough delivers a terrific performance. Although her take on the midlands accent comes off a bit rocky as first, once the play catches its stride she settles more naturally into the accent. Anna Healy and Derbhle Crotty (who played Portia in the 1996 screening) also deliver powerful performances as this play delves into themes of family, motherhood, and fate.
If you are looking for a fun and easy night out this play may not be the right choice as it deals with dark issues like incest and suicide. That being said, the heart touching moments in this play also stand out a mile. Senchíl offered moments of sincerity in the play that was refreshing against the darkness of it all.
The structure of this play also serves as a reminder of its themes with Portia’s fate being revealed to us at the end of the first act and showing us that the fate of this family was always inevitable.
Be sure to catch this play in the Abbey Theatre in Dublin before it finishes on the 16 March as it is something you will not want to miss.