Review: The Only True History of Lizzie Finn, Southwark Playhouse ★★

For the heroine of Sebastian Barry’s play, history is both her refuge and her downfall. A spiritedly independent woman who has escaped poverty in Ireland via the English music hall, Lizzie Finn’s humble origins rear their head when she marries into an Irish landowning family and becomes the subject of local gossip and scandal amidst a late nineteenth-century atmosphere of change.

Barry is perhaps better know as a novelist than a dramatist, and there is a decidedly novelistic feel to the writing here, with a plot whose gentle meanders would be better suited to the delicacy of prose. Very little about Barry’s script is theatrical, offering Blanche McIntyre’s direction a tough challenge. What she and designer James Perkins create in response is gorgeous to look at, a mirage of floating candles and tenderly assembled scenes, but less compelling for the other senses.

at its centre a ballsy, intriguing, potentially extraordinary character

A few lightly fascinating strands are threaded throughout this muted, underwhelming drama – recurring ideas of self-identity, simmering class conflict, Ireland’s troubled history and the scars of the Boer War – but none quite explored to fruition. And at its centre a ballsy, intriguing, potentially extraordinary character whose own inner history is never fully explored.

** (2 stars)
Rus until 21st July
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