Martello Productions with Portia Coughlan by Marina Carr

Martello Productions with Portia Coughlan
by Marina Carr

‘Portia Coughlan’ by Marina Carr

Tonight’s play was performed by Dublin- based theatre group Martello Productions – regular competitors of the Festival since 1989. They told the story of ‘Portia Coughlan’, written by Irish playwright Marina Carr.

Most of the action takes place in Portia Coughlan’s living room in 1996. She lives by the Belmont River with her husband, Raphael and her two young sons. Portia has turned 30 and she’s not very happy about it, with her opening dialogue stating: “half me life’s over.” She appeared dishevelled and unkempt compared to her working husband, who was dressed in an expensive suit.

Both actors got across to the audience from the start that it wasn’t an entirely happy relationship, with Portia (played by Orla Malone) bitter towards Raphael (Colm Kearns) for marrying him at 17 and seemingly not thrilled at having two sons with him. Portia doesn’t think much of the £5,000 bracelet he’s got for her birthday and decides to head down to the bank of the Belmont to meet her other part-time lover, Damus (Noel Goff).

In came Maggie May (Carolann Murphy), a woman in her late 60s/early 70s who is dressed like a 21-year-old: a short denim skirt, gold platform sandals and a sparkly pink sequin top. Her partner Senchil (Noel Goff) follows closely behind her, much like throughout the length of the play, waiting on her hand and foot – “light me a cigarette, Senchil.” They both wish Portia a happy birthday, but the lead character is far from having one.

Portia was a twin to her brother Gabriel (Daniel Seery), who died when they were 15. Her parents Marianne (Sandra Mullen) and Sly (Andrew Scales) arrive and there’s obvious tension between the family. Sly’s mother Blaize (Deirdre Malone), wheeled in by her son, had many funny lines despite the overall sense of the family not getting along: “you’ll break me brakes!”

We meet Portia’s best friend Stacia (Gemma Stack) who wears different coloured eyepatches depending on the mood. They visit the local pub and it’s here we meet Fintan Goolan (Dave Butler), the seedy, cowboy-boot, waistcoat-clad barman who’s taken a strong liking to Portia. They flirt and we witness Portia instructing him to meet her at the Belmont. There was a funny exchange afterwards between Stacia and Fintan, where she asked: “Are ye lookin’ for somewhere to put it?” referring to her missing eye.

Great use of lighting and sound effects was used throughout the play, with the reflection and physical presence of the river prominently depicted. This gave a sense of the underlying themes of tragedy and ill-fate, with Gabriel appearing in bright green at moments, singing the same haunting hymn. It is this image that Portia cannot erase, often saying morbid lines such as, “I’ll lie here when I’m a ghost.”

There were so many poignant and emotionally-charged moments in this play, the most memorable when Portia tells Raphael that she hates him and is sleeping with other men, but he doesn’t get mad – he just cries and wants her to take back what she’s saying. Other moments included Portia and her mother physically fighting on the floor and showing us that there will always be a reluctance to let go of Gabriel from either woman.

Overall, the characters were all strong in delivery and movement, well-rehearsed and each drew us into the small world of Portia and her turmoil. Orla’s stage presence was haunting, giving us the sense that she is already a ghost even before death. There were moments, especially towards the end, which made us feel uncomfortable but enthralled. It was a brilliant performance authentically portrayed.

Jill Colby once again delivered an insightful adjudication which helped our understanding of the play