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John B Keane’s “Field” at the Belltable

In the long history of humankind, is there a square inch of ground left that somebody has not killed for?  I doubt it.  There’s a longing  deeply embedded in some people that compels them to hunger for land, just as others might hunger for vindication, for food or for fulfilment.  The hunger for land might mean nothing to the herders of the Rift Valley, or the North American plains Indians.  It might mean even less to the Inuit, and it certainly means nothing to me.  Yet, when I came away from the Quarry Players’ production of The Field last night, I felt at least a little understanding of the ancient rage that drives people in their desire for land.

Bull McCabe is not a contented man.  He’s a slave to his own lust for possession.  He’s a thug, a bully and a hypocrite.  Despite his physical presence, he’s a pathetic man who carries no authority except the threat of violence to his neighbours.

It’s a simple story, and yet one that audiences all over the world have understood.  When the widow Butler decides to sell a field she rents to Bull, he’s outraged.  After tending to it and improving it for five years, he reckons he has an entitlement to it, and he won’t see any outsider bidding more for the land than he’s prepared to give.  But McCabe and no-one else will set the price.

It all ends in murder, as you knew it would, but to my mind it also ends in worse.  The Bull McCabe ends up as a prisoner of the man he and his son have killed, like the Ancient Mariner condemned forever to be draped with the carcass of the albatross he shot.

It wakes up all sorts of questions that may well mean little or nothing to city people, but which resonated with the rural Irish of the mid-sixties when the play was first performed.  The play deals with themes of rural isolation, the suffocatingly judgemental nature of Irish society in those days, the domination of clerics and the overwhelming communal silence that allowed otherwise decent people to hide awful deeds.  To my mind, it goes beyond a single murder, and points to the mindset that allowed an entire society to maintain silence about other abominations within our borders.  If we could be quiet about a murder, why would we not keep our own counsel about the industrial schools that blighted the countryside?  Why would we not remain silent about the Magdalene laundries?  Why would rural communities  in particular not keep their mouths shut about people committed to mental institutions so that avaricious relatives might inherit a farm?

Just like the Bull McCabe, perhaps those nuns and those Christian Brothers were slaves to the people they had wronged, abused and oppressed.  Perhaps they were left with no option but to continue the abuse over generations, or else confront what they had done.

The Field goes far beyond a single killing.  John B Keane, from his benevolent perch behind the bar of his Listowel pub, cast a shrewd eye over this dysfunctional society and did his best, within the constraints available in 1965, to highlight its ugliness.  Watching it today, in 2012, after all we’ve witnessed, the play makes uncomfortable watching, but in the unreconstructed Ireland of 1965, it must have been nothing short of subversive.

What of the Quarry Players production?

First class.

Paul McCarthy is Bull McCabe.   Tim Evans is the Bird O’Donnell.

The set design is convincing, the stage direction draws in the audience and the pacing holds your attention from start to finish.

I didn’t expect to be so impressed with this show, and I certainly didn’t expect to find myself still pondering Bull McCabe’s awful dilemmas twenty-four hours later.  This is fine stuff.  If you have a spare evening, go along for a look before it ends, but beware the Byzantine ticketing system.  Prices are a secret, but I can tell you that they’ll either cost you €15 or €17.  Don’t tell anyone at the Belltable that you heard this here.  As I said, the prices are a secret.

8 replies on “John B Keane’s “Field” at the Belltable”

Based on that review, I shall give it a lash shur.
Booked it online there.
Some tickets were also 12 euro.. but those seats were a bit further back.
17 euro is still a steal anyways. Loved Richard Harris in the movie.

Looking forward to that now.

Cheers Bock.

The Grange Players also present The Field in the Hawks Well Theatre, Sligo on Saturday, March 3rd, St. Joseph’s Hall, Boyle on March 10th and at The Library Theatre, Luton on March 17th and 18th. Apologies for hogging the post.

Why would we not keep our own counsel about the industrial schools and the Magdalene laundries? Great observation Bock.

While reading all the recent reports, I had this niggling thought in my mind as reporters conveyed “shock” at the revelations. Everyone knew what was going on, not the details of course but we all knew there was awful abuse in all these places. It was right in front of all our eyes at the christian (right!) brothers schools, so we could only imagine what they were doing to the poor youngfellas locked behind closed doors.
But wasn’t all this part of the plan? Didn’t these places and the abuse serve a purpose for society? Wasn’t the threat of those places supposed to keep “at risk” kids on the right side of the fence?
That’s the way I saw it as a 10 year old. I knew that I had to be wary of the priests as an altar boy, though none ever made me feel uncomfortable. I knew to be more wary of the Christian brothers, so I avoided the few weirdos. Most of all I knew where I’d end up if I got out of hand and my parents weren’t there to keep me in check.

What I am trying to say, in agreement to your sentiment Bock, is that we all part of the rotten scheme. And the existence of the rotten scheme tainted us all. The abused of course, but the abusers too became slaves to it. And as a 10 year old I’d look around at all the charming families in the neighborhood and wonder if the threat of those places wasn’t doing its part to keep everything so charming? And I’d wonder if the price for all this Irish charm wasn’t too high?

I have to say it was brilliant.
Not showing off now, alright fuck it I am.. but I’ve been to some plays in NY.. saw Kathleen Turner, Jude Law (‘Indiscretions’ – Jude balls naked in that!), Sarah J.Parker and husband Matthew Broderick – ‘How to succeed in business without really trying’ and a few others.. and this was really up there with them. Better even, as it was much more intimate.
I particularly thought Tim Evans as ‘Bird’ was really excellent as was Beena Day as Maimie.

With regards to Bull. I don’t see him as simply a thug.. I have sympathy for him.
I don’t think he has a lust so much for possession as a want to be somebody of importance.
This is embodied in his speech to the priest and the garda. He has a rage about his place in life. Why there is one law for the wealthy lawyers and doctors and one for the likes of him. A rage at god that he was born into the class he belongs to. That the work that he’s had to do all his life has been hard manual labour.
I think his rage is understandable.

Paul McCarthy put in a great performance as the Bull. I got a few shivers with the intensity of some of his monologues.

Great stuff.

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