Friday, December 13, 2013

Abbey Theatre, 'The Risen People': Was it For This the Wild Geese Spread?

As a year of marking the centenary of the 1913 Lockout comes to a close, what can The Risen People tell us about this distressing chapter of Irish history? Photo: Ros Kavanagh

Abbey Theatre
Dec 5-Feb 1

My review of The Risen People by James Plunkett coming up after the jump ...

James Plunkett may be better known as the author of Strumpet City - the 1969 novel that followed its characters through the tenement slums of Dublin during the industrial chaos in 1913, when employers locked out workers from their jobs. Its world developed from his play, The Risen People, written in dedication to his former boss, trade union leader James Larkin, who floats through Strumpet as a revered figure. Director Jimmy Fay omits the messianic portrayal of Larkin from the Abbey's current production but the play's innate sentimentality still remains, as a refined collaboration with composer Conor Linehan and choreographer Colin Dunne risks romanticising a distressing chapter of Irish history.

A series of scenes show the residents of a tenement building - strike leader Fitzpatrick (Ian Lloyd Anderson) and his wife Annie (Charlotte McCurry), the financially flailed Hennessys (Hilda Fay and Phelim Drew) and socialist Pat (Keith Hanna) - as they persevere the debilitating Dublin of the time, living lives negotiated with a pawn shop run by the roguish Rashers (Joe Hanley). A working class community is brought together to belt out ballads - of which there are 19 - eventually to be split apart by class conflicts.

Sparingly, the major events of the time are delivered in swift, almost trifling motions. Simon Boyle tumbles demolished from a spray of smoke, signalling the collapse of the Church Street tenements. The Bloody Sunday riots seem to be only signified by a brief visual from Neil O'Driscoll's video projections. And the conflict between mother and father over the sending of children to foster care is alluded to in an under-written scene, though performed well by Lloyd Anderson and McCurry.

Plunkett admits inspiration from O'Casey's Plough and the Stars, a connection which the Abbey tries to resonate with Hanley and Kate Stanley Brennan recalling their roles in Wayne Jordan's recent production for the company, with Hanley resembling his role as Plough's Fluther and Stanley Brennan, once the shrike prostitute Rosie Redmond, now the titular of The Risen People's music number 'Only the Whores Have Money' - an original composition venomously sung by Hilda Fay. However, Plunkett possessed none of O'Casey's provocation, which leaves us with an unnecessarily humble, sort of romanticised portrait of 1913.

Its form is strangely sustaining however, with its biggest surprise being a restoration of the old music hall, with its comedy, songs and sparse musical accompaniment - Linehan's elegant piano, Niwel Tsumbu's unruly guitar, sometimes aided by cast members on flute, violin and percussion. A musically realised version of Yeats' September 1913 draws the evening to a close, powerfully measured but it doesn't relieve a production where Romantic Ireland's loss was all that prominent.

What did everybody else think?

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