Mixed Marriage at the Finborough Theatre is a centenary revival that makes sense. St John Ervine’s 1911 play about sectarian violence and industrial action in the north of Ireland strikes a chord in our troubled times, while a love story across the religious divide concerns the timeless conflict between the personal and the political.
Director Sam Yates observes the period of the play meticulously. More impressively, he opens up the drama wonderfully. Masterful pacing gives the audience time to draw parallels without forcing them. The “fighting and wrangling” for money, and the use of fear as a tool of division, are highlighted subtly and seamlessly.
A romance between a young Catholic girl and her Protestant neighbour is moving, but I suspect a sleight of hand here. Yates skilfully circumvents any melodrama in the text, making the dilemma the couple faces – the possibility that their union could literally cause a riot – heart-stoppingly tense. The final scene is as gripping as it is grim.
Yates’ cast responds superbly to his sure direction. Christopher Brandon and Nora-Jane Noone are fantastic as the young lovers. Joel Ormsby and Damien Hannaway play their siblings in fine style. The older members of the cast take the lead, though, with Daragh O’Malley and Fiona Victory as Mr and Mrs Rainey – a Protestant couple caught between her homely appeal to tolerance and his fiercely stubborn preference for political loyalties.
Mixed Marriage is at once remarkably concise – it’s a meaty 80 minutes with no interval – and admirably clear. Excellent direction and performances allow the ideals of St John Ervine to ring out – the inspiring notion that two people in love can be “bigger than the world” is cause for celebration.
Until 29 October 2011
Written 7 October 2011 for The London Magazine