The Fall of the Second Republic
New Theatre, Dublin
It's eerie to the point of being terrifying: a fantasy Ireland of the 1970s, apparently wildly surreal, possibly a warning signal of what could happen if we really stumble into nightmare territory.
Except every character, every line, every scenario is familiar. Because it has all happened. More than once.
Michael West is a playwright with a light touch overlaying his scholarship and his blazing anger at how we betray our much-vaunted integrity and decency.
The Fall of the Second Republic gives us a Taoiseach (Andrew Bennett) who doesn't even pretend to disguise his corruption. He talks a blue streak along the lines of every holier-than-thou cliché, but the stink of his actions is all-pervasive. And there's his megalomania, his nepotism and his profound contempt for those who accept his merciless bullying. Including his own family.
Except they're in on it, too: his sister is a minister; his daughter is married to his drunken (possibly a kerb-crawler for male prostitutes) Tanaiste (Declan Conlon). And plum jobs are there to be handed out to the patsies, provided they stay quiet.
Planning laws are there to be blown up (literally); newspaper editors are there to be intimidated (or bribed). And we all trot merrily along.
Except it's not merry: it all has the smell of authenticity, with lots of the characters sounding horribly, familiarly close to the bone.
This Corn Exchange production directed by Annie Ryan is perhaps a bit over-written; but the rage and disgust carry it along with the hugely sharp jokes and the allusions that make you blink, they're so close to the bone.
And as the piece races to its climax, a lunatic figurehead is reduced to drug-induced silence as his erstwhile followers prove how well they have learned the lessons he taught, and the newspaper reporter (Caitriona Ennis) who has withstood it all in the hope of exposing it finally acknowledges terrified defeat.
Ireland in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and…?
Ryan directs with her usual flair; one would say she was born to do ensemble work, except that she has also proved herself in more intimate pieces. But Corn Exchange has evolved from its early days as a commedia dell'arte company, and that surreal influence remains powerful in its work.
The Fall of the Second Republic is funny, yes. But it's also sobering.
It takes a talent and an intellect as massive as George Bernard Shaw's to make a play out of a philosophical debate. And I imagine Jack Harte wouldn't put himself in the same category as GBS.
He describes his play Killing Grandad as a satirical comedy, and it takes the form of a debate between Balor of the Evil Eye and his grandson Lugh of the Magic Sword when they meet, as legend has it, for a final encounter between the Tuatha de Danann and the Fomorians for control of ancient Ireland.
As Harte has it, Balor thinks that there's no point in the planned single combat, so long as a legend can be manufactured between them to satisfy the waiting armies and future generations.
So, with common sense (Balor) and vanity (Lugh) battling it out, we listen for an hour until the denouement.
Sadly, it doesn't work either as comedy or as food for thought, with Gerard Lee's direction cumbersome, and disappointing performances from Michael Judd (Balor) and Kevin McMahon (Lugh).
It's an in-house co-production with Parthalonians Theatre.
Sunday Indo Living