Saturday 19 October 2019

The Alternative: Emotional core makes political drama a highlight of the year

The Alternative, Draíocht, Blanchardstown, until Saturday

The Alternative, Draíocht, Blanchardstown, until Saturday
The Alternative, Draíocht, Blanchardstown, until Saturday
Hebuca by Rough Magic: L-R, Zara Devlin, Brian Doherty, Aislin McGuckin. Photo by Ste Murray

Katy Hayes

Fishamble - The New Play Company present this glorious intervention in the current political debate about competing nationalisms on this island and the next one. Everything about the show is first rate: the script, the acting, the direction, the production values, and also the concept, the ambition and the political vision.

There is a seam of journalistic theatre that is under-excavated in Ireland; writers and producers in the UK are much keener on it. But Fishamble has been grooming an audience for this kind of politically charged work for several years, with their docudramas by journalist Colin Murphy.

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This offering is written by Northern Irish writing duo Michael Patrick and Oisín Kearney. The play is a counter-factual representation of the contemporary moment.

The 1916 leaders were not executed. Ireland never left the UK. Home Rule was enacted. Ireland has a regional parliament. The Labour prime minister of the UK is a Dubliner. Her minority government is supported by the Irish Parliamentary Party, who have demanded a referendum on Ireland leaving the UK.

The play is set in a television studio, during a live debate between the prime minister, Ursula Lysaght (Karen Ardiff), and the Irish first minister Peter Keogh (Arthur Riordan). The insufferable host is John Fitzgibbon, in a marvellous performance by Rory Nolan full of irrepressible self-love. Director Jim Culleton's knitting together of all the elements - emotional, political, technical - is outstanding.

The stroke of brilliance in the writing is in the character of the producer's daughter, Grainne, played with shaky vulnerability by Maeve Fitzgerald. Grainne suffers from a form of schizophrenia where she sees alternative realities: a brother she never had; an independent Ireland with a disco called Coppers.

This fractured vision marries the personal with the political and gives a destabilising emotional core to the flashy media-world frame.

Lorcan Cranitch brings great depth to Grainne's father, TV producer Richard, locked in a compulsive relationship with his profession. He dramatises the struggle between venal ambition and personal responsibility with nuance and bite.

A terrific split-level set by Maree Kearns renders the playing space highly dynamic. There are reports with vox-pops, like on Prime Time, dropped in on a huge screen. It is also very funny. Do not miss this show. It is a highlight of the theatrical year.

Tours to Lyric Belfast from Oct 8-13


War horrors have chilling immediacy

Hebuca by Rough Magic: L-R, Zara Devlin, Brian Doherty, Aislin McGuckin. Photo by Ste Murray

Hecuba Project Arts Centre, Dublin Until Oct 6

Playwright Marina Carr makes two major innovations in her version of this Greek play from the 5th century BC: her Hecuba endures the terrifying grief of having almost all her children slaughtered in war, but Carr does not have the Trojan queen turn to revenge.

History is written by the victors; plays are written by the men. Carr's version is a rebuke to Euripides' incomplete and inadequate imagining of woman and motherhood.

The other brilliant element in the writing is the retooling of the traditional Greek declamatory style into a dynamic remix of dialogue, comment and reported speech. This obliterates the static nature of the Greek original and what we get is theatrically charged and much more urgent.

Brian Doherty as Agamemnon and Aislín McGuckin as Hecuba expertly build up layers of complexity as they pick their way through the compelling and brutal story. The psychology of both victors and vanquished is equally excavated.

Director Lynne Parker for Rough Magic cuts to the emotional quick in her intelligent, contemporary vision; Sarah Bacon's set could be any post-war landscape. The effectiveness of the production makes it all the more disturbing: this ancient story feels terrifyingly immediate and real.

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