The Mai, and ‘a fate you can’t escape’

GALWAY’S MEPHISTO Theatre Company will bring their exciting new staging of Marina Carr’s powerful play, The Mai, to the Town Hall main stage next week.

Sensual, potent, and often darkly funny, the play portrays the turbulent marriage of The Mai and her wayward husband Robert, a beguiling cello composer. Around them gather The Mai’s female relatives, headed by her opium-smoking, sharp-tongued, Grandma Fraochlán, and 16-year-old daughter Millie, through whose eyes we see the story unfold.

The Mai is the 20th production Mephisto have presented since their formation in 2006 and it is the second show the company has staged in the Town Hall’s main performance space, following their much-praised production of Bryan McMahon’s The Honey Spike there in August of last year.

Clearly, Mephisto are making the steady transition from theatrical young guns to seasoned veterans, a point acknowledged by company member Caroline Lynch, who plays the title role of The Mai.

“It’s been a long road, though we haven’t felt the time going and it’s amazing to think we’ll now have 20 shows under our belt,” she declares. “The Honey Spike last year was a major milestone for us, going onto the Town Hall main stage and reaching a bigger audience; you feel as a company you’re starting to grow up a bit.

“There’s that bit more pressure, you’re working with a bigger cast and crew and you learn a lot from it all. Now this is our second time out doing a big production and we’re putting into practice all the lessons we learned from last year and it’s really enjoyable working on the show.”

Lynch goes on to share her thoughts on the character of The Mai.

“I think she’s like a character from the Greek dramatic tradition of Tragedy and Fate, a fate you can’t escape,” she says. “She’s a bundle of contradictions; she’s a well-educated professional working woman, the principal of the local school, she’s built a fantastic house using her own money and has raised four kids.

“Then on the other hand she puts up with a philandering husband who seems to come and go as he pleases and she seems to do it because she is so in love with him, so there is that strange contradiction at the heart of her and maybe we can never really understand it and just have to accept it.

“Of course at the time the play is set, around 1979/1980, there was no divorce in Ireland so The Mai portrays that predicament that a lot of people were in then, once you got married you really were with your spouse for life whether they drove you crazy or not.”

The larger-than-life figure of the Mai’s Grandma Fraochlán bluntly professes how she felt far more love for her late husband, ‘the nine-fingered fisherman’, than she did for any of her children. Would Lynch say that the Mai’s passion for Robert parallels that described by her grandmother?

“Yes, definitely” she replies emphatically. “And that’s where that kind of Greek Tragedy/inescapable fate comes into it; that with the women in this family, for whatever reason, there’s a history of very disruptive relationships with their husbands. They love them even more than their children and then the children suffer because of that and they hand on that feeling of neglect to the next generation.

“Grandma Fraochlán had this idealised husband and while she was more than happy to have lots of children with him she didn’t want to give the children any attention, she gave it all to him. Then when he died she dedicates herself to his memory and continues to ignore her children.

“The Mai too has an absent husband and her daughter Millie is the next generation who is being handed on this weird legacy of neglect and of watching her mother let herself be torn apart because of the nature of her love for Robert.”

While the play is named for the Mai, it is telling that the story it portrays is seen through the backward-looking gaze of her daughter Millie, recalling events from some years later.

“It’s a memory play and events are seen through Millie’s memory,” Lynch observes. “It’s her attempt to understand her family and the nature of love as it’s experienced in her family. I do keep that in mind as I’m trying make sense of my own character, that the story is all filtered through Millie and it’s very much her memory of what the Mai was like as a mother and observing her as a wife.

“That said, it’s been brilliant working on it; it’s been a long time since I’ve done a play with such a strong narrative line to it, and it’s been really enjoyable. There’s beautiful music in the play as well, the theme of music runs through The Mai very strongly so myself and Liam O’Brien, who plays Robert, have been taking cello lessons for the last month and I’ve enjoyed learning that!”

The Mai runs at the Town Hall with a preview performance on Thursday August 16, (tickets €14 ) and runs from Friday 17 to Saturday 25 (Sunday excluded ) at 8pm nightly. Tickets are €18/14 and are available from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777 and www.tht.ie

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