Theatre review: Abortion referendum gives brilliantly played early Friel a certain topicality

Ruby Campbell and Thomas Finnegan in Brian Friel's Winners at the Lyric
Jane Hardy


Lovers: Winners And Losers

Lyric theatre


BRIAN Friel’s early work Lovers: Winners and Losers, played brilliantly at the Lyric theatre on Wednesday night, still resonates. Not just because the question of how we achieve and lose love fascinates us, but because this 1960s double bill has a certain topicality.

Margaret (the outstanding Ruby Campbell) is newly pregnant, about to marry Joseph, the father of her baby. If their psychology is anything to go by, disaster lies ahead.

Revising for their final exams on a beautiful hill above Ballymore, they’re on top of the world. Or she is – verbally manic, skittish, gorgeous – while he wants to get on, get a degree.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be too distracted by the Republic’s vote on the eighth amendment and abortion law, although clearly a question is raised.

The teenagers just want to remove the disapproval, mock-shooting the teachers, nuns, priests, neighbours in their way.

Friel deploys tragic dramatic irony to impressive effect. Two narrators let us know, as if delivering a TV news item, the couple’s fate. It’s not good, ending in a watery grave. And although we have seen the pain and arguments as the pair work out their futures, we don’t know exactly what happened.

Of course, one of Brian Friel’s great themes is missed dreams. His other thing is language, colloquial and otherwise. In the hilarious but equally poignant second drama about Andy and Hanna, a late middle-aged couple hobbled by her controlling, ultra-religious mum, we have a Chekhov short story.

The hilarity of the pair making out on the sofa while loudly reciting poetry to persuade mother upstairs they’re not doing anything got snorts of laughter. Yet Charlie Bonner’s account of Andy’s predicament was poignant. At the end, we saw behind him the shiny young lovers with their fixed future.

Emma Jordan’s direction was nuanced. Ciaran Bagnall’s set was clever, a kind of platform atop a dark scene at the start, like the sunlit conscious mind above the all-powerful subconscious.

We don’t escape the psyche, don’t easily sidestep religion or what Andy dubs “the Rosary caper” either, and there are no real winners in these relationships.

:: Until June 10; details and booking at

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