Monday 22 July 2019

Review: Emotional stories, neatly rendered

Theatre: Signatories, Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin

Lisa Dwyer Hogg takes part in a segment dealing with James Connolly in UCD’s ‘Signatories’ in Kilmainham Gaol. Photo: Ros Kavanagh
Lisa Dwyer Hogg takes part in a segment dealing with James Connolly in UCD’s ‘Signatories’ in Kilmainham Gaol. Photo: Ros Kavanagh
The write stuff: Irish writers Marina Carr, Rachel Fehily, Hugo Hamilton, Joseph O'Connor and Thomas Kilroy at Kilmainham Gaol to launch signatories.

Katy Hayes

Eight writers take a Proclamation signatory as a subject for a theatrical monologue. The persona of Nurse Elizabeth O'Farrell is added in an attempt to literally put the woman back in the picture, or photograph.

It sounds like a dutiful and worthy project from UCD and Verdant Productions. But it becomes magical in this complex collection of portraits, which form a perfect whole under director Patrick Mason's carefully built emotional trajectories.

The tour opened in Kilmainham Gaol, where this reviewer saw it. Emma Donoghue's script functions as a prologue, with Barbara Brennan playing Elizabeth O'Farrell as a haunted older woman remembering her young self flitting about the bullet-ridden Dublin streets with surrender notes. The other characters do not grow old.

In capturing the moments before death, we are presented with wives, children, fathers. Seán MacDiarmada is conveyed via his fiancée Min Ryan, in a piece which bristles with Beckettian mordant wit and denial.

James Connolly is stung by accusations of inhumanity. Éamonn Ceannt is riddled with guilt. Thomas Clarke remains defiant "that blood is on English hands." Thomas MacDonagh is broken-hearted, his firing squad especially vivid. And Padraig Pearse conjures a lasting vision of a blonde boy being shot as he runs, partly haunting, partly erotic.

The emotional intensity is ratcheted up for the finale as a softly spoken Shane O'Reilly gives a career-making performance as Joseph Mary Plunkett.

Writer Joseph O'Connor shows complete theatrical command in addressing a complicated dual present, appealing to the public of both then and now. A defiant "Do not belittle these heroes in my presence" feels well earned.

In focusing so intensely on the personal, this show manages to bypass the problematic aspects of commemorative art.

It is a work about what goes through the head of a person about to be executed. It is a play about how to die, as much as it is about the Rising.

Irish Independent

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