Wednesday 22 January 2020

'Inside the GPO' review: History overwhelms this drama

Inside the GPO, Fishamble Theatre Company
Inside the GPO, Fishamble Theatre Company

Sophie Gorman

If ever a play was about its location, it is Colin Murphy’s new documentary-drama ‘Inside The GPO’. Fishamble theatre company are presenting it in the main post office hall of our own GPO on the centenary anniversary of the events it is commemorating. And this setting contributes hugely to the atmosphere.

Directed by Jim Culleton, this is set over the five days of Easter week 1916, from Easter Monday when the rebels seize the GPO to the evacuation the following Friday. It is a time of intense pressure, when even the most staunch loyalties and ideologies are tested.

We, the audience, are seated around an octagonal lectern at the centre of this grand room. With a huge cast of almost 20, many playing multiple roles, the play happens around us, behind us and even from the balcony above us.

James Connolly’s secretary Winnie Carney (Orla Fitzgerald) acts as narrator, linking events and providing an overview. This is an important theatrical device but it does come at the cost of Carney having any real character. And indeed it is hard to connect with the very real emotions of this situation and its participants.

History is reduced and simplified here and these almost mythical figures are never fully made flesh. There is too much didactic rhetoric rather than convincing dialogue. Patrick Pearse emerges as an ineffectual and malleable leader, a man who sidles rather than strides. He is so paralysed with fear that it results in critical indecision.

This hall was not acoustically designed for theatre and integral speeches are somewhat muffled. But the moment Martha Dunlea as a nurse starts to sing, we can hear every word remarkably clearly and it is stirring. As is the performance of Don Wycherley as The O’Rahilly. Wycherley shows him to have true conviction and also to know when it is time to save lives rather than sacrifice them.

But the real stars are the setting and soundscape designed by Carl Kennedy. When the bombs explode outside, you have a very real sense of the terror inside.

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