Saturday, April 19, 2014

The New Theatre, 'The Assassination of Brian Boru': Who's Good Enough for Clontarf?

While the historicity of accounts describing the Battle of Clontarf has been in dispute for 75 years, it is widely accepted that Danish brothers Ospak and Brodir were involved in events leading to Boru's death. Photo: Al Craig.

The New Theatre
Apr 15-19

My review of The Assassination of Brian Boru by Lauren Shannon-Jones coming up just as soon I never tire of my brother's stories ...

The ambiguity that surrounds what happened in Clontarf in 1014 - historians have spent the last 75 years debating whether it was the culmination of a campaign to unify Ireland and liberate it from the Vikings or simply a regional skirmish between Munster and Leinster - also engulfs the circumstances of the hero's death. How did Brian Boru die? 

Lauren-Shannon Jones' play focuses on two Danish brothers from prose history, Brodir and Ospak, as they are sailing from the Isle of Man to join the fight in Clontarf. It is widely accepted that the two of them were involved in events leading to Boru's death, with a few descriptions of Brodir being responsible for the killing blow.

Considering the varying versions of events, it is smart of Jones not to strive for fact here. While alluding to such inaccuracies, she might be more invested in telling a good story. 

On their voyage to Clontarf the brothers encounter three signs: iron-beaked ravens, spinning swords, and a blood-drenched sea. Ospak considers them as omens, urging the rest to divert their advance on the Christian King. For Brodir, however, they are blessings to prepare his soldiers for battle. It's a divide that leads both to either side of the battlefield.

Jones' shimmering script meets the task of manifesting Medieval Ireland. An eloquent turn from Daithi Mac Suibhne as Ospak paints the good conscience of a warrior who still needs nerve to grab for his sword, especially when up against the swaggering and bigger Andrew Kenny, who startlingly retains a reasoning in his savagery as the sorcerer Brodir.

Nora Kelly Lester's direction has had a careful hand in these deliveries but elsewhere it misses the mark, specifically in the biggest reveal of Brodir's butchery as well as covering up some lengthy scene changes. However, design elements on the modestly-sized stage evoke the epic, including the spectral appearance of Shane Connaughton via video projection as Brian Boru. A flinching sword fight clinks and swings us to the end of a steely and enlightening production from The New Theatre.

Jones' play spends so much time debating the interpretation of signs and versions of events that it seems to suggest putting historicity aside. Accurate or not, they are good stories, and this definitely feels like one that should be seen by a wide audience.

What did everyone else think?

No comments:

Post a Comment