Striking fringe gold again, rising directorial star Blanche McIntyre manages to make Weston-super-Mare seem positively alluring in the UK premiere of this 1995 play by Sebastian Barry.
It is the end of the nineteenth century, and strong-willed Irishwoman Lizzie (Shereen Martin) is dancing the can-can in a seaside music hall, having chosen scandalous employment in England over stifling traditionalism in Cork. But a chance encounter with socially inept, upper class Boer War veteran Robert (Justin Avoth) leads to love, marriage and a return across the Irish Sea to his family estate, now on the brink of bankruptcy thanks to the punitive Land Acts.
Chekhov is an obvious touchstone for Barry's bittersweet, gently amusing portrayal of romance blossoming amongst fading European aristocracy. But McIntyre's production surges with optimism, a feeling that Lizzie and Robert's love could transcend Victorian social shackles and help build a fairer future. 'Lizzie Finn' shares DNA with 'Three Sisters', but is also its negative: a play filled with real belief in the possibilities of escape and starting anew.
The writing feels a touch lightweight in places, with little real impediment to true love's course, and too much time given to minor comic characters such as eccentric old geezer Bartholomew (Andrew Jarvis). But McIntyre's finely acted production has a dreamy lyricism and swooping sense of romance that overwhelm any thinness in the script. In this it is aided considerably by James Perkins's gorgeous seaside set, a constellation of candles hovering above a pool of water, the stars reflected in the ocean in a dance of infinite possibilities.
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