REVIEW: ARISTOCRATS (Donmar Warehouse) ★★★

Ballybeg Hall is a manor which sits atop a hill looking out at the isolated Donegal village of Ballybeg. Despite its grandioseness, the property is rotting from the inside out and in typical Friel fashion, is not the only thing decaying as we zoom in on the lives of the O’Donnells. American professor, Tom Hoffnung visits the family, who act as an emblem for pre-independence Irish aristocracy, to study for his ‘Recurring Cultural, Political and Social Modes in the Upper Strata of Roman Catholic Society in Rural Ireland Since the Act of Catholic Emancipation’ paper.

It seems incorporating a doll’s house into set is popular at present and this production follows suit as a small version of the house takes pride of place centre stage. At first the space feels a little bald with the first act relying heavily on rather weighty dialogue to carry it. After some time we see it slowly embellished with opulent features including the backdrop being ripped away to reveal an ornate painting of the manor. This direction supports the idea that the family are constantly distracting themselves from the truth.

The whole piece, in fact, is about delusions of grander, optimised by the characterisation of Cazimer by David Dawson, who scuttles about the stage waxing lyrical of this German wife and children who none of his family have ever met. Eileen Walsh also puts in a stunning performance as Judith, and generally the cast establish a pleasing chemistry despite tackling a script which is often a little too hefty with the dialogue.

This highly political play has moments of greatness with somber monologues and invisible croquet games, however one leaves the theatre concluding that it is perhaps just a little lacklustre.

Reviewed by Nicole Darvill-Batten
Photo: Johan Persson


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