Saturday 16 December 2017

theatre

john mckeown

the risen people

the abbey theatre, dublin

With its folk songs, socialist ballads, music hall devices and air of general dilapidation, Jimmy Fay's production of James Plunkett's play, based on Jim Sheridan's adaptation, has a very Brechtian feel. We could be watching Brecht and Kurt Weill's Threepenny Opera, particularly when Mrs Hennessey (Hilda Fay) leads the cast in 'Only Whores Have Money', a Weillian two-fingers to the capitalist fraternity if ever there was one, and played to a foot-tapping calypso beat.

But Fay's production doesn't quite strike the note of nihilism reached by Brecht's 'Mack the Knife', though what does ring out clear, thanks to performances from Hilda Fay's Mrs Hennessey and Charlotte McCurry as Annie Fitz, is the questionable morality of letting children starve in order to fight the bosses.

Amid the period newsreels, whirling stage set, and satiric songs, Fay is faithful to those powerful scenes in the play which need no embellishment. "I married a man, not a movement!" Annie yells at her shop-steward husband Fitz (Ian Lloyd Anderson), one of the fiercest upholders of the strike. "I wouldn't be a man without the movement!" he retorts.

Mrs Hennessey is less succinct, screaming at Mr Hennessey (Phelim Drew) to forget principle, "I have no milk for my child!"

While there's no accommodation with the women of the play, apart from Lily who joins the 'Workers Republic,' the strikers and their families are all united in suffering, to a frightening degree. Phelim Drew hits a genuinely macabre note when he sings, croaking like a coffin-lid, the words of Death in response to Hilda Fay's appeal for a little more time in the traditional song arranged by Conor Linehan and Fay. In concert with Paul Keogan's ice-cold lighting, we get a whiff of the deeper dread behind the suffering of the locked-out families.

The suffering in the tenements is also communicated in little details such as the pictures and furniture disappearing from Annie Fitz's flat. Where the Sacred Heart of Jesus hung there's nothing but a dark stain on the grey walls, and nowhere for Annie to lay her despairing head but the bare floor. As Mrs Hennessey sings: 'Where Is Your Lovely Home?'

Made from diverse elements and different versions of the play Fay's is a stylishly grim, often darkly celebratory production which gives us a rounded view of the Lockout from both personal and political angles. Its approach is reflected in the great swinging chunk of tenement which is the centrepiece of Alyson Cummins' inimitable set design.

Irish Independent

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