It’s only a few days since I read Marina Carr’s Woman and Scarecrow, but I decided to give myself a treat and read another play by this incredible Irish playwright.
By the Bog of Cats… is a deeply disturbing, brilliant play. The Medea myth runs through it as does Ireland’s deep distrust of travellers (gypsies/tinkers). Hester Swane is a woman who was abandoned by her tinker mother when she was just a girl. She’s never been trusted by the villagers and is now a woman of 40 with a child of her own. The play begins with Hester dragging a dead black swan across the icy ground of the Bog of Cats and meeting a stranger, The Ghost Fancier.
From the very first page of the play, we know that Hester’s doomed, what we don’t know is how her doom will transpire and who she will take down with her.
HESTER: I was born on the Bog of Cats and on the Bog of Cats I’ll end me days. I’ve as much right to this place as any of yees, more, for it holds me to it in ways it has never held yees. And as for me tinker blood, I’m proud of it. It gives me an edge over all of yees around here, allows me see yees for the inbred, underbred, bog-brained shower yees are.
The cast is peopled with amazing characters, like the Catwoman: a blind seer who eats mice and laps milk from a saucer.
HESTER: There’s a longin’ in me for her [her mother] that won’t quell the whole time.
CATWOMAN: I wouldn’t long for Josie Swane if I was you. Sure the night ya were born she took ya over to the black swan’s lair, auld Black Wing ya’ve just buried there, and laid ya in the nest alongside her. And when I axed her why she’d do a thing like that with snow and ice everywhere, ya know what she says, ‘Swane means swan.’ ‘That may be so,’ says I, ‘but the child’ll die of pneumonia.’ ‘That child,’ says Josie Swane, ‘will live as long as this black swan, not a day more, not a day less.’
By the Bog of Cats … is a truly astonishing play. Reading it haunts you and I can only imagine how powerful it must be in performance.
Publisher: Faber and Faber
Cast: 6F, 6M