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Intimate look at the emotional price paid by executioners

Guests of the Nation at Cork Opera House and Triskel Arts Centre, Cork until Saturday, June 25

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Amy Conroy, Liz Fitzgibbon, Chloe O'Reilly and Gina Moxley in Guests of the Nation. Photo by Enrique Carnicero

Amy Conroy, Liz Fitzgibbon, Chloe O'Reilly and Gina Moxley in Guests of the Nation. Photo by Enrique Carnicero

Guests of the Nation, part of the 2022 Cork Midsummer Festival programme, starring Gina Moxley. Liz Fitzgibbon and Amy Conroy. Photo by Enrique Carnicero

Guests of the Nation, part of the 2022 Cork Midsummer Festival programme, starring Gina Moxley. Liz Fitzgibbon and Amy Conroy. Photo by Enrique Carnicero

Seamus O'Rourke and Irene Kelleher in A Safe Passage. Photo by Marcin Lewandowski

Seamus O'Rourke and Irene Kelleher in A Safe Passage. Photo by Marcin Lewandowski

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Amy Conroy, Liz Fitzgibbon, Chloe O'Reilly and Gina Moxley in Guests of the Nation. Photo by Enrique Carnicero

The point of Frank O’Connor’s great short story is that being killed is hard, but killing others is even harder — a thesis delivered with stunning theatrical clarity in this Corcadorca production for Cork Midsummer Festival.

Created by Kevin Barry (writer), Pat Kiernan (director) and Mel Mercier (composer/sound designer), the adaptation keeps close sight of the central moral message of the War of Independence story.

The evening starts at the stage door of the Cork Opera House. We climb up the back stairs to the upper circle, where the audience of about 100 occupies the back four or five rows. The show starts in utter darkness, and voices come. We meet the two Irish volunteers, played by Liz Fitzgibbon and Gina Moxley, and the two English soldiers, Amy Conroy and Chloe O’Reilly. There is a great sense of immediacy and intimacy.

Bypassing theatrical realism, there is no attempt at English accents. The actors are all women, playing human rather than playing men, which is an interesting way to excavate the emotional essence. This first section presents us with the events of the story: we learn that the two Englishmen have been executed, and how the two Irishmen carried out the task.

The audience then walks about 10 minutes across busy Cork summer-night streets to the Triskel Arts Centre, where we are let in a back door. The four soldiers are playing cards; we get a glimpse of their common humanity, and a socialist affinity among them emerges.

And finally, we are outside in the fresh air. Here we get to witness the grisly executions. A small JCB digger menaces to one side as it digs graves, and a young performer (Neo Gilson) reads out parts of the story.

Director Kiernan’s clear-sighted pursuit of the moral core of the story is relentless, with the death of the younger Englishman both harrowing and moving. Mercier’s exquisite soundscape controls the mood, juxtaposing the military with the elemental. Kevin Barry’s adaptation contains some anachronistic references, for example to Elton John, which give it a contemporary feel.

All four performances are terrific, and there is something unforgettable about Fitzgibbon’s and Moxley’s agonised faces at the end: the executioner’s grief writ large.

Shining a light on a psychological storm

A Safe Passage at Firkin Crane, Cork
until Tuesday, June 21

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Seamus O'Rourke and Irene Kelleher in A Safe Passage. Photo by Marcin Lewandowski

Seamus O'Rourke and Irene Kelleher in A Safe Passage. Photo by Marcin Lewandowski

Seamus O'Rourke and Irene Kelleher in A Safe Passage. Photo by Marcin Lewandowski

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Ambiguity is an uncertain dramatic tool. In Irene Kelleher’s new play for Blood in the Alley Productions, it is at first unclear whether the young woman saved from drowning by the lighthouse-keeper is real or a product of his psyche. It is New Year’s Eve in 1979. Christy is alone in the lighthouse and writing a letter to his ex-wife, Marie.

The drenched young woman, in goth make-up and clothes, makes hints about his past. Christy keeps trying to contact his base on a crackly CB radio to issue a distress call, but he cannot get his message across.

Seamus O’Rourke plays the lighthouse keeper, gruff and haunted, keeping a lid on his guilty, traumatising secret, and denying to himself the young woman was attempting suicide. Kelleher herself plays the young woman; an on-the-edge dimension to her performance gives the show quite a charge.

Director Geoff Gould uses an immersive style to absorb the audience into this challenging psychic space. Sound and video designer Cormac O’Connor fills the Firkin Crane circular auditorium with projected stormy images and sounds.

Finally, everything falls into place, and we learn the real meaning of the young woman’s presence. There might have been more value in greater psychological clarity early on, but this is an intense investigation into suicidal feelings, and the two lonely creatures draw you into their distinctive emotional world.


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