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Living Quarters review at Tobacco Factory Theatres, Bristol – ‘well worth the wait’

Living Quarters at the Tobacco Factory Theatres, Bristol. Photo: Camilla Adams Living Quarters at the Tobacco Factory Theatres, Bristol. Photo: Camilla Adams
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There is no holding back Tobacco Factory Theatres. Its iconic red-brick building in South Bristol has been home to the internationally-acclaimed spring season of Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory (SATTF) for 16 years, and now this thriving relationship has spawned a bold co-production of a rarely seen work by Irish writer Brian Friel.

Artistic director Andrew Hilton and such SATTF stalwarts as Simon Armstrong and Chris Bianchi are on hand, but the two-week run is very much led by Tobacco Factory Theatres.

Friel has chosen a Pirandello-like framework for his account of an army hero returning to his battalion base in Donegal, only for his day of triumph to go tragically wrong.

Central to the narrative is a master of ceremonies known as Sir, played by Bianchi as a suave puller of strings. He is under constant, but unsuccessful, pressure from the play’s characters to change the course of events to show them in a better light. Friel tells a complex tale of family conflict, which is overlaid by the Greek legend of Theseus’s bastard son, Hippolytus, and his doomed love affair with his stepmother.

Hilton’s command of theatre in the round serves his nine-strong cast well. Armstrong finds considerably more depth in the army commandant than is first suggested, with Nina Logue doing likewise for the most troubled of his three daughters, and Rose O’Loughlin, gowned exactly like a Greek goddess as his young second wife, a pouting catalyst for disaster right from the start.

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It has been well worth the wait for the first production of Brian Friel’s intriguing Irish play on this side of the water for 24 years