The Country Girls

Grace Collender as Kate, photographed by Ros Kavanagh.

THE book that lit a thousand bonfires, Edna O’Brien’s ‘The Country Girls’ is on a countrywide tour with The Abbey Theatre following its adaptation for a Dublin run. Back in the 1950s, O’Brien was damned by many a pulpit and community pillar for the book’s content concerning awakening sexuality and new values.

Contrary to myth, the writer had tacit support from her own parish priest at home in Clare, according to her London secretary back in the day, Mary Kenny, when she gave the Hunt Lecture here in 2013.

Abbey director Graham McLaren leads this drama (the girls Kate and Baba are perceived to be alternate expressions of O’Brien herself) enriched by music and choreography unique to his production.

Kate Brady is played by Grace Collender. She tells Arts Page that, of the eleven characters, “it is very much set around Kate and Baba. Kate is a gifted student and the book is narrated by her, a coming of age story about how she navigates growing up in a pious, oppressed version of Ireland in the 1950s.

“She is very intelligent and her way of thinking is close to Henry David Thoreau or James Joyce. There has been a lot of hardship in her life from a young age related to family stuff,” this having to do with the Irish crosses of heavy drinking, early death and consequent emotional/ familial issues. Kate’s literary mindset and reminiscences add layers of interest to a gentle story.

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Grace Collender reminds us that is has been said that Kate and Baba are split version’s of Edna O’Brien’s personality, “the intellectual side that is passionate about becoming a writer and Baba being the fun, vivacious side.”

Emigration? Another of ‘The Country Girls’ universal themes: “This yearning for home and love and nature and landscape but also the need to get away from home to do what you really want to do. Kate really struggles with that. She loves home.”

Anticipate a fine score crafted for this production by Ray Harmon. Movement director Vicki Madden shapes how the large cast moves around the stage as memories are showcased. Emotions are raw, the language is honest and original text is enhanced to captivate further.

Coming to Lime Tree Theatre for Tuesday April 30 into Saturday May 4, 8pm; Saturday matinée at 2.30pm.