Big Maggie by John B Keane is a compelling vision of the Irish mother as sociopath, and it is making a stop in the Royal Theatre, Castlebar for two days only on December 6 and 7. Maggie Polpin (Aisling O’Sullivan ) is a just widowed mother of four living in rural Ireland, now sole owner of the family shop and farm. She is a complex figure, far from the clichés of Irish femininity which preceded her. This is a hard-bitten, uncompromising woman who puts her personal security above all other concerns. She rejects the place which cultural precedent has laid out for her and chooses to drive all of her children away rather than nurture them like a mother hen.
First to go is the eldest son, promised a share of the business by his late father and eager to take what he feels he is owed. When Maggie reveals there is no will and that the old man had signed over everything to her one year before, the son realises his options are limited and he must either leave home or live under his mother’s control. He chooses the former. As the play progresses, Maggie confronts each of her children, shattering their image of themselves until all of them have been forced to leave the nest. She always maintains the position that it is for their own good and that they must learn how hard and cruel the world really is.
Big Maggie by John B. Keane, is set in 1960s rural Ireland. It is a compelling portrait of a woman who is determined to take control of her life following the death of her husband. Shocking for its time – the play premiered in 1969 – the portrait that Keane painted of the dark side of Irish family life seems now to be eerily prescient.
Joining O’Sullivan will be some of the finest young emerging Irish actors including Paul Connaughton, Charlie Murphy, Amy Molloy and Sarah Greene. Playing Byrne, the stonemason - the one character whose caustic wit is a match for Maggie’s own – is John Olohan and he is joined by Joan Sheehy who makes a welcome return to Druid playing the role of Mrs Madden. Finally, playing one of Keane’s most memorable characters, the lusty commercial traveller Teddy Heelin, is Keith Duffy who will be making his Druid debut.
An enormously entertaining play with an underlying sadness it is well worth the effort to go to see and make your own mind up as to what was really troubling Maggie.
And it is this lack of love that comes across most starkly in this production, particularly as, towards the end, the quips and laughter die out. Maggie has her independence, and keeps her sharp wit. But no amount of laughter, not even a final, unexpected last line, will make up for what she has lost. Tickets are €25, on Sale Now from the Royal box office 0818 300 000 or Ticketmaster outlets nationwide. For more information see www.royaltheatre.ie