“What is the meaning of life?” Lily Briscoe asks in To The Lighthouse. It may be, as she puts it, a “simple question” but it is the one that underlies this deep meditation on life, love, loss, the meaning of art and the role of women in society.
This adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s modernist masterpiece by Marina Carr is a hybrid of film and theater, a world premiere recorded on The Everyman Stage as part of the Cork Midsummer Festival. What it lacks in terms of immediacy in terms of live-broadcast performance it gains in terms of creative leeway, with director Annabelle Comyn bringing her distinctive and inventive vision to the production.
The story stretches from before the start of World War I to its aftermath and focuses on the Ramsay family and their guests visiting their summer residence in the Hebrides. At the heart of Carr’s skillful adaptation is Woolf’s language, the monologues of the book’s inner consciousness flow given voice, creating a striking blend of private thought and public statement.
“Pray that the inside of my mind will not be exposed,” said Mrs. Ramsay. But that’s exactly what Carr does, exposing the insides of the characters’ minds, making all of the often cruel and poisonous thoughts audible to us that are masked by suspicious assurances and false sincerity.
The relationship between Ms Ramsay (Derbhle Crotty) and Mr Ramsay (Declan Conlon) is brought to the fore from the start, as their feelings for each other range from admiration and support to aggression and contempt. . The tension that was central to Woolf’s life as a woman art designer is evident everywhere.
“Women can’t paint, women can’t write,” says Charles Tansley (Colin Campbell) as Lily (Aoife Duffin) struggles with doubt to paint her “little picture” as Mrs Ramsay makes wedding plans for her.
Waves break and recede as plans to visit the lighthouse are delayed. Death, loss, and war all take place, and without Ms. Ramsay’s stabilizing force, the characters wade, all at sea, literally and metaphorically.
In a strong cast, Crotty is outstanding as Ms. Ramsay, not an expression or movement wasted in her performance. Aoife Duffin as Lily and Olwen Fouréré as Carmichael come into their own in the second half as they grapple with the existential questions at the center of the play.
The Aedín Cosgrove chameleon ensemble works wonders, offering a glimpse of the forest through wispy curtains, a mirrored floor reflecting in more ways than one. There are some issues with the sound, and, timed at two hours 10 minutes, it may take a lot of the audience’s concentration time.
However, it is a gloriously ambitious and inventive production; Woolf and Carr form an inspired match, the Irish playwright detecting the absolute truths of Woolf’s work with precise laser focus and exploiting them to the full.