Intemperance at New Vic – REVIEW

Review by David Bithell

I visited the New Vic on Tuesday night to see its latest offering “Intemperance”.

Every time I visit, I always wonder how the set is going to look but it is never disappointing, a lot of effort and style goes into each production.

For this, the set is a square block, which forms a basic basement style room.  During the play two cast members rotate it to give everyone part of the round the chance to see it from various angles.

Intemperance, a revival of Lizzie Nunnery’s award-winning play, is a very thought-provoking production, which is set around 165 years ago about an immigrant Irish family living in the slums of Liverpool, there are references to Lime Street and The Grapes pub (which if it’s the same one, I have visited myself which stands to this day along Matthew Street).

Before the play begins, Irish music resonates from the theatre speakers and onto the concourse area of the New Vic, which helps to get you into the spirit and appreciate the music, of which local musicians have recorded for the play.  Due to me driving, the only thing missing for me was the pints of Guinness to round off the Irish theme.

This is a story of a family who moved from Ireland to Liverpool, to try to make a better life for themselves, but ended up living in poverty and craving meat, a food in which is a luxury they cannot simply afford.

Millie, played by the magnificent Krissi Bohn (who I adored in Table at The New Vic), strives for the better life her husband Brynjar (Oystein Kanestrom) promises, but as Intemperance plays out, you can see the battles she faces from her demons as all she has ever known is the graft and the continuous need to fight for respect. 

She is expecting her third baby while living with her son Ruairi (Thomas Grant) and older daughter Niamh (Niamh Finlay).

In the corner, waiting to die and entertaining everyone (including the audience) with memories of his wild times, is her father Fergal played by the wonderful John O’Mahony.  He particularly reminded me of my own grandfather who told me stories and tales during his world war 2 days, some maybe not have been true but I never would have known.  John’s humour and comic timing is there to see throughout the play.  The family, typically classed in society as the undeserving poor, drinking their lives away as they know nothing else.

Life is painful in the slums of Liverpool.  Cholera is taking hold of the vulnerable and Millie herself is scared for her unborn baby. Parts of the play left me shocked and saddened, but due to the characters of the play, we were soon laughing as the family showed their true grit and never say die attitude with lots of humour.

For me, Zoe Waterman wonderfully directs this play with panache, but I expected nothing else following her recent offering, Table.

During the car journey home, it occurred to me that even though the play is set 165 years ago, certain aspects of it still happen today, like poverty, people living on the streets and there is still the class of society divided across the UK. 

Intemperance runs at The New Vic until April 20.