The unofficial London-wide Irish theatre season continues, and true to form the Finborough's contribution is a play that was a huge hit when first produced a hundred years ago, but which has since lapsed into obscurity. Set during a 1907 dockers' strike in Belfast, St John Ervine's Mixed Marriage looks at Ireland's sectarian problems with the perspective that there are those who will profit from them, and in whose interest it is to keep them going. So a strike about appalling pay disparities affects both Catholics and Protestants, but has a mainly Catholic leadership. In the Protestant Rainey household where all the men are on strike, father John (Daragh O'Malley) is convinced to give some public speeches to show solidarity between the workers. This isn't as easy for him under his own roof though, as oldest son Hugh (Christopher Brandon) intends to marry Catholic Nora (Nora-Jane Noone) and John is willing to put the strikers' work in jeopardy to stop it happening.
Billed as a domestic tragedy, Mixed Marriage does include a lot of humour as well, and some clever turns of phrase. If it falls into the trap of having the characters pronounce the author's political views to each other a lot, both Ervine's script and Sam Yates' production do it so economically (the whole thing runs at under 80 minutes straight through) that it doesn't matter. Though set entirely in the family's front room, with the only characters outside the family being Nora and strike leader Michael (Damien Hannaway,) John's refusal to accept his son's marriage has much wider-reaching effects. A tyrant in his own home (a recurring theme has him bullying younger son Tom [Joel Ormsby] into silence any time he tries to speak) the tragic consequences of his stubbornness see him quivering with his own furious refusal to admit he was wrong. While the cast is strong, all the anger and passion on display can't steal the show from Fiona Victory, whose down-to-earth Mrs Rainey provides the heart of the piece. Yates has done a good job marshalling his cast around a smaller-than-usual Finborough stage, caused by Richard Kent's set creating a backstage area - I don't envy the six-strong cast when they have to all squeeze in there prior to the show's start, especially given the amount of dry ice being used.
Mixed Marriage by St John Ervine is booking until the 29th of October at the Finborough Theatre.