ANU Productions commemorates the formation of Cumann na mBan 100 years ago.
100 years later in the same building, ANU Productions deliver a specially commissioned performance to commemorate the event: Cumann na mBan - Auxiliaries/Allies?
The doors of a function room push open to reveal a gathering of women in high societal gowns. "Play or Watch?" you could be asked, before requested to take a seat at the table. As for those of us left to stand, we quickly realise why. A man from the audience gestures to take a seat and is met with a resounding "No"! 100 years ago, we weren't invited either.
With the clink of a teacup they plunge into discussions, asking if Irish society has achieved genuine equality for women. As they hash out positions on pacifism versus activism, Irish language and domesticity, the men are left silent and observant.
Louise Lowe's direction then jolts us out of the naturalist scene, with the performers giving to physicality(*), gesturing the raise of their skirts. Even in the advance of freedom, Woman can't escape the sexual liberties that have been made of her.
(*) Two gestures - a sideways slam of the body on the table and a raising of the hand across the forehead and mouth - were recurring motifs in ANU's 'Thirteen', which suggests that they're part of a mythology that isn't limited to the company's connection with the Dublin Lockout.
A military-dressed member of the women's league, played with pride by Laura Murray, stands on the table and gives an account of entering the GPO during the Easter Rising with a typewriter and revolver, making her Winifred Carney - the only woman to be part of the seizure of the building. Later on, Murray describes clenching a white flag in her hands, meaning she has taken on Elizabeth O'Farrell, the go-between sent to negotiate Pearse's surrender on behalf of the rebels.(*)
(**) Like how 'Thirteen' revealed female figures such as Rosie Hackett and Dora Montefiore who aren't well documented in Irish history, I expect we'll learn about more extraordinary individuals from ANU's work in the coming years. I wonder if we'll see a return of Derbhle Crotty as the theatrical and radical Helena Moloney, who during the Rising fought as a sniper against English soldiers at Dublin Castle.
Revealing startling images of a battlefield with bullets in the air and skulls on the ground, ANU's commemoration is a far cry from the maternal 'place in the home'. It leaves us to consider that the women of Cumann na mBan had exceeded their mission as auxiliary forces; they were allies in war with their fellow rebels, fighting on the front line.