The first play in the lead-up to the 1916 centenary has arrived ...
My review of The Rising, and by way of interludes World War I by Joe O'Byrne coming up after the jump ...
McKeague and O'Brien, the fictionally-named producers of Joe O'Byrne's new play, are also the bickering narrators of its story. One's a trumpet-toting Protestant, the other's an Irish dancing Catholic. Their differences stubbornly aside, they narrate a history of Irish partition and the events surrounding the Easter Rising, marking the first play to resonate with the upcoming 1916 centenary. It also serves as an example of how this can be done very badly.
With the snap of the Irish dancer's heels and the parade of the Orange Man's sash, the play marches into a portrayal of the period with the subtlety of The Lord of the Dance. From Home Rule to the Kilmainham Gaol executions, it's a case of throwing at the wall a slew of potatoes, bowsies and The Rising of the Moon; ah shur, something will stick.
O'Byrne's direction is fussy as performers endlessly scurry for props on a stage that isn't ordered by any identifiable set design. It doesn't help that it's a vehicle for Breandán De Gallaí's zealous choreography, which is demonstrative rather than explorative. Nick O'Connell's steps as the nationalist O'Brien move with the expertise of a trained dancer but his acting technique is less ranged. John Ruddy's turn as McKeague is just as limited.
Incorporating dance, balladry and theatre, its style is close to vaudeville, a form vindicated to entertain. In this centenary let us treat The Easter Rising and World War I with the seriousness and magnitude of their being. Don't pillage a scene in the trenches with dismembered limbs that are flung absurdly across the stage.
It's a shame because there are some interesting findings here. For example, did you know that in the same week as the Rising, when the Irish Volunteers aligned themselves with the Germans, that a large number of Irish soldiers fighting in the British army were killed by poisonous gas assaults by German forces in France? Most interesting is the martyrdom of James Connolly as he limps wounded through the blasted streets, realising that the only way to escape blame for the destruction of the city is to die.
But this play will be remembered instead for its two granny characters who, when guns fire overhead, can only muster: "Concepta, I don't usually say me prayers but hear me NOWWW!". An atypical representation of Ireland definitely, but even that needs to be careful of its politics! With Ruddy's towering, bullying Orange Man it seems expected that our sympathies side with the nationalist. The unionist's experiences of the time are unfairly represented and may be considered downright offensive!
If, as the conclusion suggests, McKeague and O'Brien plan for their next show to tackle the Irish War of Independence, it's hoped that they approach the political oppositions with a little less Flatley and a lot more Friel.
What did everybody else think?