Portia Coughlan ★★★ Almeida Theatre | Oct 7 - Nov 18, 2023

It is Portia Coughlan's thirtieth birthday, but she is unhappy and is drinking at ten o'clock in the morning. Portia hates her situation and her husband and her children. She is obsessed by the death of her twin brother and finds no pleasure in life. In fact, she comes from a long line of bitter and twisted people, and we meet three generations of this clan which makes the House of Atreus look like a well-adjusted family. However, in this battleground world where everyone is physically or psychologically maimed, or both, the effect is pathetic rather than tragic. In Portia's own case, her unrelenting self-pity obviates any sympathy the audience might have for her circumstances. Similarly, the vicious interactions of the rest of the gang, while at times amusing, never elicit any real empathy. Writer, Marina Carr, has created a rich language with a long line. It is full of rich and varied assaults, interspersed with revelations, and it sometimes challenges the cast's breath control, but it is always engaging. In general, the performances are strong, and Alison Oliver as the unappeasable Portia is outstanding. Kathy Kiera Clarke does a nice turn as Maggie May, the whore with a heart of gold, and Sorcha Cusack as the malicious Blaize Scully ignites the stage whenever she appears. Archee Aitch Wylie's haunting voice and Maimuna Memon's music and lyrics provide a plaintive counterpoint to the action, while Alex Eales' clever set beautifully captures the claustrophobic interior worlds and challenging exterior landscape. This is a birthday party not everyone will want to attend, but it is grimly engrossing and has lots of fireworks!

Rated: ★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Photo by Marc Brenner

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