Greta Garbo famously wanted to be alone even before she retired from the silver screen.

So where better to seek out seclusion than a Donegal backwater?

Frank McGuinness’s fine new play puts a fictional spin on an event that really took place – the film goddess’s visit to Ireland as the guest of a painter.

Set in the late 1960s in the large house once owned by the Catholic Hennessy family, but now in the hands of homosexual artist Sir Matthew (a fruity Daniel Gerroll), it imagines a brief stopover in a place “half way” between New York and Sweden.

Unmarried Paulie Hennessy has accepted the restrictions of life as his housekeeper, but for Colette, her teenage niece, the place has nothing to offer.

Her hopes are pinned on winning a scholarship to study medicine in Dublin and escape from Sylvia and chauffeur James (Owen McDonnell), her bickering parents.

Drunk or sober, resentment over the loss of the property and their reduced status as the new owner’s domestics fuels their vitriolic slanging matches.

Cockney ex-boxer Harry completes the household, fulfilling the dual function of live-in lover and gardener – and making an early appearance completely starkers.

Garbo (in her sixties, and as aloof as ever in Caroline Lagerfelt’s ironically detached performance) arrives, takes an immediate dislike to Angeline Ball’s ignorant Sylvia, almost lets her guard slip as she forges an unexpected connection with Michelle Fairley’s excellent Paulie (whose drab pinafore belies the fun-loving girl she once was) and departs leaving an unexpected legacy behind her.
Robert Jones’ clever design smoothly merges indoors and out, and Nicolas Kent’s well-acted production hints at imminent change and the Troubles just around the corner.

And although, in a Chekhovian sort of way, nothing much happens, that’s in no way a criticism of what proves to be a witty, compassionate and very enjoyable study of people trapped by a combination of circumstance and their own actions.

Louise Kingsley

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