x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Dubai production examines arranged marriage in rural Ireland

Backstage Productions is reviving John B Keane's Sive.

Cast members of Sive in rehearsal in Dubai. Satish Kumar / The National
Cast members of Sive in rehearsal in Dubai. Satish Kumar / The National

It is the mid-1950s in rural Ireland, where a young orphan girl is being forced to marry an old farmer. Such marriages, when the age gap between bride and groom could reach 25 years, were not so uncommon in Ireland at the time.

Often, a man would pay a matchmaker what would have been the equivalent of Dh120,000, according to David Daly, who is bringing the story of Sive by the Irish playwright John B Keane to Dubai.

The play

Keane, who died in 2002, is one of Ireland's most celebrated playwrights. He owned a pub and wrote Sive in 1959. It won the All-Ireland Drama Festival award that year.

The story follows 18-year-old Sive, who lives with her uncle and his wife Mena, who agree with a local matchmaker to marry her off to a much older man. Sive is devastated as she is in love with another man, who is rejected by her family.

It will be Daly's directorial debut and produced by the Dubai-based Backstage Productions, featuring a diverse mix of local actors.

"I tried to pick out something which I thought would resonate out here," says Daly. "Some of the cast see it as a horrible tragedy. I think it's a tragic comedy, purely because of how the play ends."

Having seen the play performed before in Ireland, Daly says he knew exactly what he wanted to do and stayed true to the original script with few minor changes.

"I come from a village of about 250 people. When you go to a local theatre, you know everybody attending and on stage. My parents owned a pub and we grew up knowing everything about everyone. It was all quite crazy, really!"

Ensuring characters are portrayed as flawed rather than evil was also a top priority. The character of the old man wishing to get married, for example, is one that is "a product of his time".

"He doesn't think there's anything wrong with buying a bride because that's what they did," says Daly. "Mena's a character people will potentially hate … but she is married into a poor house, has no kids and is haunted relentlessly by her mother-in-law, Granny."


Daly says the good guys in the play are the gypsies. Known as travellers, many lived in caravans and moved around the countryside, says Colm Kelly, who plays Pat Bocock. "Keane's words are lyrical and he takes us on a journey that enlightens us about life in rural Ireland. People will enjoy the play especially with the economic climate, because it holds up a mirror," he says.

For the co-producer Jordane Chetoutal, playing Mena is like telling her own story. "I find her complex and can relate to her. Last year, I experienced trauma and can understand how she feels," she says.

Linda O'Driscoll, playing Sive, says the story is universal, as it tackles love, marriage and money. "It has been quite a challenge playing her character because she doesn't have a voice. Everybody is deciding her life. It's hard to understand because in the modern day, we have choices," she says.

Costumes and set

"It's very poor Ireland and it's set in wintry weather, so most characters are wrapped up," says Daly. "The men have heavy jackets and boots and the granny will wear an abaya because she would have worn black." Only Sive has a few costume changes.

Props include minimal furniture that would have been true to that era. "It takes place in the living room, cum kitchen, cum dining room, cum every room really," says Daly. "Keane owned a pub and was used to such characters in his play coming in and out."

Tickets cost Dh50 and the show starts at 7.30pm from tonight until Wednesday at McGettigan's, Bonnington Hotel, Dubai