The Abbey primes the canon for young audiences. As Ali White's Me, Mollser expands the universe of The Plough of the Stars, it also makes O'Casey feel politically resonant.
I attended an industry showing of Me, Mollser by Ali White and have a few thoughts below ...
The Abbey has received a lot of criticism recently claiming that it's struggling creatively (some of which I don't wholly disagree with, though Michael West's Conservatory, currently on the Peacock stage, is a wonderful exception).
A strong resource - and where the company seems to be currently at its most potent politically - is its Community and Education Department managed by Phil Kingston. It is through here that The Risen People was sent as part of a tour to Wheatfield Prison where during their Nobel Call the inmates were given a stage to voice their anger at political events.
Kingston now introduces the Priming the Canon series, set on giving ownership of Irish theatrical classics to younger audiences, beginning with Ali White's monologue elaborating on the world of Mollser Gogan from The Plough and the Stars.
You'd imagine the material could be dark for its intended 10-12 year old audiences: a teenage girl dying from Tuberculous surrounded by the destitute living conditions and political adversary of 1916. But what White's nimble text aims at, with Mary-Lou McCarthy's deft performance covering the distance, is to have the audience consider themselves in relation to a point in time: What were people's homes like? Were would they go to the toilet? What transport would you take to get home?
O'Casey fans will get a kick from seeing Mollser - who doesn't get much stage time in the source play, and what little we see is defined by her decline - imaginable in her pre-destabilising state: a tough, sometimes trouble-maker daydreaming about trotting around St Stephen's Green donning a sublime hat from Arnotts. It's one of the more transformative turns from McCarthy, who seemed to perform close to her own personality in last year's Life Behind The Venue (you'll also remember her being utterly unrecognisable as a dancer in Brokentalkers' The Blue Boy). The direction from Sarah Fitzgibbon, who's experienced in working with educational companies such as Graffiti Theatre, provides ample gaps for young spectators to respond to her.
White expands the universe of Plough, presenting Mollser further under the protection of the industrious Fluther, a confidante to Nora Clitheroe and admirer of her husband Jack. The discovery of a glittering dollhouse modelled on the aristocratic Georgian townhouses that proceeded the dire tenements provides a bittersweet reflection on her own youthful poverty.
If O'Casey's 1926 play critiqued how labour and economic morals were being disposed of in the political tides of the time, White harnesses the message for the youth of today, having them contemplate their citizenry - something which I've never seen a children's play do before - and the economic neglect that once denied children rights to education and sustainable housing.
A touring schedule notes Me, Mollser to have a run on the Peacock sometime in 2014. Kingston announced the development of a Me, Michael (Christina's son from Dancing at Lughnasa) as well as talks of a monologue from the boy of Waiting For Godot.