My praise and thanks must go to director Ken Moroney and New Ross Drama Workshop at St. Michael’s Theatre, for a beautiful evocative production of Hugh Leonard’s almost forgotten play, Summer. Over thirty years ago I saw a professional production of this play, probably at a Dublin Theatre Festival and it had a significant effect on the way I saw theatre and specifically Irish Theatre. Summer and Friel’s masterpiece Philadelphia Here I Come, showed modern possibilities of internalizing dialogue and at the same time letting the audience hear and experience to curious contradiction of internal thoughts as to what characters were really thinking.
While it might be old hat technically now, this play held that Summer glow before a housing boom as three married couples meet on a Co. Dublin hillside for a picnic in 1968. The Halvey’s are well-to-do, with a clever son ready for Trinity. The Loftus’s, a curious Protestant mix of uncouth aspiring builder and his beautiful but high maintenance wife and their puppy-fat daughter.
Anthony O’Connor’s fine set catches the warm glow of a summer Sunday, where people plan futures, dream and flirt. Richard Halvey lusts after ice-queen Jan Loftus and Jess White worries about money, sales targets and gets drunk. The children are embarrassed by their parents and have more innocent dreams.
During the first act, time freezes the action and the characters reveal their true or worst feelings and fears but an overloud metronome rather than a ticking clock intruded on the reverie.
The second act is set in 1974 and the idyllic summer hillside is now a building site and the characters lives are almost all changed and that provides the impact of the play and a sharper look at friendships and disappointments.
Thirty years ago I hadn’t seen much classic Russian theatre and didn’t realize that Irish theatre was trying to imitate these morality tales but I loved the way the play ended without tying off problems or resolving lives.
That might be the reason the play got lost in time but in New Ross, and in this time of recession and uncertainty, I basked in a wonder glow of good times and Sundays out and how my own family grew and how my engagement with theatre continued and deepened.
Ken Moroney was impressive as the amoral Richard Harvey. Eamon O’Connor shone as the under-pressure Jess White. Tom Reddy was wonderful as the accepting builder, Stormy Loftus.
Brid Richardson blossomed as, the fading beauty queen, Trina Halvey. Catherine Gladney impressed as the straight-laced Myra White. Martina Kavanagh was splendid as the ice-queen of sexiness, Jan Loftus and the way she held her body was a lesson in sexuality.
Jenny Walsh was excellent as the daughter Lou Loftus, who grew up in act two. Michael O’Connor, as Michael Halvey, was splendid as the difficult and know-all son, and every time I see him he just gets better and better.