The Fall of the Second Republic
Abbey Theatre, Dublin Until March 14
Corn Exchange, in a co-production with the Abbey Theatre, take up the farceur's tools to create this counterfactual picture of 1970s Irish politics. The events glance off actual historical events, without reflecting them precisely, giving the play a vibrant tangential relationship with reality.
Property developer Tom Carney (Declan Conlon) is in corrupt cahoots with the Taoiseach of the day Manny Spillane (Andrew Bennett) in developing a spectacular International Banking Centre. The closed Theatre Royal is in the way of their plans, so they organise for it to be burnt down. A protester dies in the blaze. Intrepid journalist Emer Hackett (Caitríona Ennis) is determined not to let this tragic death get buried. The play follows an unfolding political scandal, with Hackett chasing evidence of the money trail, as she struggles with thuggish politicians and a cowardly editor.
Writer Michael West takes this material and weaves a broad farce from it. Director Annie Ryan plays up the fun. Breakneck pacing with actors doubling keeps the energy high and grabs plenty of laughs. Denis Clohessy's cartoony music is a treat. Katie Davenport's set design is determinedly drab, bordering on the rebarbative. Saileóg O'Halloran's costumes are a reminder of how awful everyday 1970s clothes were.
The characters are mainly over-the-top venal villains. The exception is Ennis as the crusading "hackette", who manages to nimbly flit around the farce energies, maintaining a tone of sincere realism. Conlon makes a delightful tipsy Tánaiste. Bennett as the babyish Taoiseach is as scary as he is funny. Anna Healy shines as the Taoiseach's PA, a fascinating portrait of servitude.
The corruption, the venality, the nepotism of politicians are boldly presented. But there is an ideological disjunct here: if the audience is supposed to consider how bad politicians are in reality, what then does giving them this added layer of farcical thuggishness mean? Despite its comic tone, this is a most serious and incendiary work. It portrays traditional Irish politicians as completely disgusting, and lays Irish salvation at the door of a spirited young female journalist. The final line of the play indicates starkly that this corrupt Irish political system is at an end.
This is a sparky, provocative, but fundamentally bleak piece. As the play opens with the destruction of an Irish theatre by politicians, so it closes with the metaphoric destruction of Irish politics in a theatre. No comforting optimism here.
The New Theatre, Dublin , Until March 14
Gaelic epic sagas like those of the Tuatha Dé Danann provided material for many Irish playwrights in the foundational years of the state. As with all mythological sources, it can be difficult to free this kind of material from the dust of the museum.
But here, Jack Harte creates a fresh and delightful 60-minute comic version of the military encounter between a young warrior, Lugh of the Long Arm, and an old warlord, Balor of the Evil Eye. Rowena Cunningham's costumes deftly evoke traditional Celtic imagery, but the dialogue between the two men is underscored with a vibrant contemporary sensibility.
Balor is destined to be killed by his own progeny, and Lugh has been told by his foster parents that he is Balor's grandson, smuggled secretly away from Tory Island. The planned encounter becomes a negotiation of sorts, and the combat remains verbal for the most part. The belligerence of youth seeks heroic status.
The seasoned battle-worn realism of an old man seeks peace. Kevin McMahon's Lugh is a sunny, golden-boy warrior, and Michael Judd's Balor is a twinkling, crafty negotiator. Gerard Lee directs with a clear eye, emphasising that the play is primarily a homage to storytelling. A highly enjoyable encounter of the mini-epic kind.