Desire Under The Elms
Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow, until Sat 17 Nov
O’Neill’s 1925 experiment in modern tragedy has been acclaimed as a powerful, elemental drama, so it might ill-behove me to question its status. But Jeremy Raison’s production at the Citz seems, at times, to drag a little, and if the director might have been a little over reverent in not cutting more, it’s hard to fault his production in other respects.
This canonical potboiler tells the story of Eben Cabot (Robbie Towns), the youngest son of the ungenerous Ephraim (Ian Hogg), on a poor New England farm. A cross-dressed Cinderella scenario unfolds, as his two older stepbrothers who dream of a defunct California gold rush bully and humiliate him beyond endurance. Father returns with a new and ostensibly predatory young bride (Rebecca McQuillan), who threatens Eben’s inheritance. But unexpected passions develop.
In front of Jason Southgate’s impressive cabin set, there unfolds a piece that is as much fairy tale as tragedy, with brooding red skies and the relieving element of water contending among dark Oedipal passions. There are some powerful moments of erotic tension and conflict, but in between, there are a few too many languors. And if one or two of the accents occasionally lapsed into Hampstead, New England, there are, for all that, some strong performances on show, particularly from McQuillan, who makes a difficult transition from rapacious gold digger to trembling fixated lover very smoothly. At times, an underelming experience, if you will, but worth seeing.