Nov 21 2015 | By More

★★★☆☆   Emotive

Church Hill Theatre: Wed 18 – Sat 21 Nov 2015
Review by Thom Dibdin

There’s a truth and vulnerability to Leitheatre’s take on Brian Friel’s early pair of conjoined plays, Lovers: Winners and Losers, at the Church Hill to Saturday.

First performed in 1967 and set in rural Northern Irish town, they bear the sensibilities of the time and place, as they follow two very different pairs of lovers over crucial periods in their courtships.

Winners: Chloe McIntyre and Alistair Robertson. Photo: Marion Donohoe

Winners: Chloe McIntyre and Alistair Robertson. Photo: Marion Donohoe

The opening piece, Winners, finds Mag and Joe on a hill top on a sunny, summer day in June with the temperature roaring in the seventies. The pair have exams a few days later, and have taken their books up to this remote spot to revise.

The second, Losers, follows Andy and Hanna who are well into their forties and doing their courting in her mother’s house. The mother, bedridden, lies upstairs waiting for silence to fall in the parlour downstairs before ringing her bell for attention, or some feigned reason or other.

Chloe McIntyre brings a real brightness to her performance as Mag in Winners. At 17, she is the same age as the character she is playing and you can sense her carefree vitality as she parks her bicycle and climbs the hill of Derek Blackwood’s suitably simple set.

Alistair Robertson’s Joe has the same carefree air. But tempers it with a bit seriousness that verges on the pompous as they begin their revision in their very different manners.

It’s a delightfully intimate performance which just needs to project out a bit more to fully engage in the large space of the Church Hill auditorium. The pair find the joy in the writing, but there is more there, which doesn’t necessarily come through in the performance, as the real nature of their relationship and impending marriage emerges.

Beside the two youngsters, and on stage all the time, Brian Thomson and Phyllis Ross read out a dry report of the pair’s meeting. It should give the whole piece a real menace as the truth of the day begins to fall out.


Director Don Arnott has brought out the naturalism of the encounter well enough, but it needs to fill the room. And the surrounding narrative has an almost lackadaisical air to it, where a more formal reading and presentation  would really get into the emotion and bite of the whole piece. It’s sweet, but could be so much more bittersweet and chilling.

Losers: Sally Pagan, Lynne Morris, Fiona Robertson and Euan McIntyre. Photo: Marion Donohoe

Losers: Sally Pagan, Lynne Morris, Fiona Robertson and Euan McIntyre. Photo: Marion Donohoe

There’s a similar sense of impending tragedy to Losers, although the whole is presented as comedy.

It’s narrated by Euan McIntyre as Andy, who hints from the very outset that not all will fall out well. Blackwood’s set is, again, quite the thing. It is a much more complicated arrangement that uses a screen to hide – and reveal – the mother in her bedroom with her pet saint by its side.

Director Effie Robertson brings focusses on the physical comedy of the situation – with Fiona Robertson’s Hanna jumping wildly on Andy. It’s not so much love – or lust – more like a happy puppy, while he recites Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Church Yard, in order to keep the Mother’s itchy finger off her bell.

Lynne Morris has a sharpness about her as the mother, Mrs Wilson, and Sally Pagan has a curl to her lip as snooty and pious next-door-neighbour Cissie. Andy’s failure in his battle against such self-appointed guardians of righteousness is a seemingly foregone conclusion.

What Effie Robertson doesn’t instil in McIntyre’s Andy, however, is the necessary sense of vitality to pick the whole piece up and let it breathe. He narrates it well enough and finds the resignation of his character. But it is all a bit flat, where it needs a stronger dynamic to bring out the depth to the piece.

And it is just this depth which the whole evening needs to find to bring the plays into the here and now. Both halves have a pleasant enough internal logic, and pass by with suitable drama.

But neither really gets to grips with the underlying matrimonial issues – of forced marriage in the former and divorce in the latter. Perhaps the world has moved on too far for the sensibilities which were prevalent in Ireland in the Sixties to provide the impetus which they would have fifty years ago.

Running time 2 hrs (including one interval)
Church Hill Theatre, 33a Morningside Road, EH10 4DR
Wednesday 18 –  Saturday 21 November 2015
Evenings 7.30 pm.

Tickets £10 (£9 Concs.) from the Queen’s Hall Box Office, 85-89 Clerk St, EH8 9JG
Tel. 0131 668 2019 or on-line at or at venue on performance nights.

Click the image below to purchase the script from Amazon.


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