Molly Sweeney @ Nottingham New Theatre

A production of stunning visual and aural sensation. ‘Molly Sweeney’ is an intriguing, yet simple story, about a woman who, after a lifetime of blindness, is given sight. A brief description of the plot cannot capture the subtle beauty and emotional depth the play presents in its entirety. It is an examination of people – their quirks and dreams and complications- and all the beauty and sadness of individual experience. Director Jake Leonard, with such overt care, has managed and executed Brain Friel’s delicate script to perfection, allowing its exquisite poignancy to blossom.

The play is split into monologues from Frank Sweeney, Mr Rice and Molly. Two assumptions need to be swiftly broken here: 1) monologues do not mean the energy and pace of the story are stunted in any way and 2) monologues do not disallow the set from being truly fascinating. Quickly dispel any notions you had that this performance would simply be three people sitting on chairs. Each area of the stage – formed, I should add, into an intimate two-sided thrust – makes up one of the characters’ three environments; Mr Rice, the doctor, situated in an old fashioned, shabby living room; Molly in a sparse, pure hospital bed; Frank, the haphazard enthusiast, surrounded by homely bits and pieces, scatted knowledge and untidy memorises. Each area is a visual feast, stirring your imagination before the play begins.

For the first act, Molly’s monologues are given in near total darkness. A dim violet light shows you an outline, a female figure, sitting up in bed, quite still. You experience Molly as she experiences herself: in sounds and greyscale shapes. Yet the confident, friendly voice Chole Bickford gives Molly instantly seizes you and you’re immersed in every word she says. Her accent rarely wavers and gives a lovely, lilting quality to her narrative. She is a superbly natural actor and, even though she may have been invisible for the majority of it, she stole the show.

All the actors had the same electric energy – each excellently well cast for their individual characters. Dan O’Connor, as Frank Sweeney, bubbled and fizzed with a loveable passion. Out of the three, O’Connor connected most brilliantly with the audience, he made you feel included and welcomed – at one point he asked a direct question and I almost answered him. Curiously, despite his loveable quality, I don’t know if Frank was the hero he wanted to become for Molly. His energy and enthusiasm could be seen as an unquenchable restlessness, perhaps a fickleness. O’Connor also did fantastically well with the accent, however in his excitement to tell his part his articulation was sometimes affected and restricted our full comprehension of every word – for every word was stunningly important.

Sam Peake (Mr Rice) took on maybe the most mysterious, secretive character. Many questions were left unanswered: what kind of husband was he? Did he, perhaps, have a romantic interest in Molly? These questions are the mark of a fantastic script. Peake’s outstanding stage presence helped him to portray an older man, a man with a dark past; his character was best captured when he stood still or gestured with determined movement, as sometimes his loose movements distanced me from seeing him as an older man.

The live band, separated from the stage by a gauze curtain, performed an original score by Euan Ritchie with tremendous talent. The liveliness of the music, used sparingly (although I wouldn’t have minded hearing more), underlined specific moments -such as Molly’s memorises with her father and dancing at the party – and added both to the mood of the narrative and gave the audience a further aural enjoyment. It was as if we were in Molly’s mind, where sound is so vibrant and vital.

Even after watching the play and being sucked into the perfection and radiance of the language and the actors’ skill of storytelling, I feel like my single viewing has only scratched the surface of an immensely rich script. I would not be adversed to seeing this production a second time to discover new details.

This play has been at least three years in the making (in the mind of the director) and it was well worth the wait. Truly beautiful.

Alice McCaffrey 




Molly Sweeney runs at the Nottingham New Theatre until Saturday 30th November. See their backstage trailer here

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