Sebastian Barry’s 1995 play - here receiving its UK premiere - is episodic in structure, unfolding in a series of short scenes, its narrative fragmented and choppy.
Lucy Black and Shereen Martin in The Only True History of Lizzie Finn at Southwark Playhouse, London Photo: Bronwen Sharp
Lizzie Finn, a successful and independently minded music hall performer of Irish descent, falls in love with Robert Gibson, an Irish soldier, the sole survivor of four brothers and not long back from the Boer War. They marry and return to his family home in Kerry where it rapidly becomes apparent that his background is very different to hers. The Gibsons are Anglo Irish landowners while Lizzie’s childhood was itinerant and tainted by poverty. But despite this fissure of class and identity, Barry avoids many of the expected sources of conflict - Lizzie and Robert’s love sustains them both.
Blanche McIntyre’s atmospheric production compensates for the play’s curious lack of narrative momentum. There are frequent fades to black, each scene more like a snapshot than the last. It’s attractively staged and lit, with floating flames flickering on water, and Shereen Martin and Justin Avoth are engaging as the two lovers, even though the characters as written can feel a little thin. In fact there’s a warmth to the production as a whole and while the choppiness can be frustrating and the writing at times has an edge of something approaching pastiche, it nonetheless casts a spell.