Theatre Critic and Journalist

Review: The Sanctuary Lamp, Arcola Theatre

Review: The Sanctuary Lamp, Arcola Theatre

Published in Time Out, 18.03.2010

The Sanctuary Lamp is not the incendiary device it once was. Thirty-five years after its Dublin premiere drew angry accusations of sacrilege, Tom Murphy’s own resurrection seems more wistful than dogmatic; its grievances have turned into grief.

However, Murphy’s play retains its pertinence precisely because the Catholic church is struggling to do the same. Beside the three lost souls seeking refuge overnight under the sanctuary lamp – a symbol of Christ’s omnipresence – it is the church itself that seems most astray. The institution has failed them and, just as the faithlessness of the nocturnal congregation does no infer a lack of hope, continued faith is not enough to absolve the church of its hopelessness.

Patience through a slow set-up is rewarded in the second act as Declan Conlon’s scowling Fransisco proves the much needed opposition to spark Robert O’Mahoney’s Harry into life. But Murphy’s triumph as director is an atmosphere of mournful reflection, thanks to Monica Frawley’s panoramic set and Ben Ormerod’s exquisite lighting.

Photograph: Sheila Burnett

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