Wednesday 25 April 2018

Theatre: Ghosts of TCD's past come alive

Emer O'Kelly discovered a compelling testament in the university's ghosts

Keira O' Flaherty in Meeting Ghosts. Photo: Futoshi Sakauchi
Keira O' Flaherty in Meeting Ghosts. Photo: Futoshi Sakauchi

For something that asks us to imagine ghosts, Meeting Ghosts in College Park is extraordinarily alive and vibrant. It's a promenade piece staged and written by Bairbre Ni Chaoimh in the Museum Building in Trinity in Dublin. And it sets out to help us imagine and remember just some of the women who formed part of Trinity's life over the past hundred years.

Inevitably, 1916 features; but the emphasis, while not ignoring the Rising, is on the further away battlefields which would have been of more enduring involvement for the young men and women who walked across Front Square and spent time in what was then the comparatively new Museum building in that momentous year.

The Curious Ensemble is the name of the newly-formed company involved, and the title is apt: student life has always been curious as well as aiming to develop curious minds, and Ni Chaoimh's piece is inspired in bringing that vibrancy to life as she crosses today's generation with that of the past: a young woman hiding out after closing time at the Museum so that she can attend Trinity Ball "for free" in defiance of the boyfriend who has just dumped her, and the exam-frantic young man despairing of finding an uncrowded and peaceful spot anywhere in college to do some last minute exam-cramming.

Their pre-occupations seem very minor and trivial when juxtaposed against those of their hundred-year-old counterparts, the young women who dream of and worry about boyfriends and brothers in Flanders and France, and the young men abandoning their studies and their burgeoning careers for the trenches as the Battle of the Somme looms, its horrendous bloodshed still an unknown cataclysm of blood.

There's a glamorous young Flying Officer, resentfully grounded, flirting respectfully and tentatively with the volunteer Red Cross nurse back home in Ireland; the lonely Private with no relatives striking up a long-distance relationship with the valiant young woman student whose name he found inscribed as the sender of a box of "home comforts" to the troops.

And the two worlds of bloody conflict cross when the sister of a Sinn Fein volunteer shot within Trinity's gates comes to try to find his "last resting place" and encounters Provost Mehaffy's daughter, to find that Miss Mehaffy had sat with his body, and said the Lord's Prayer. And always, there is yearning, as befits a text which is drawn from actual archive.

Meeting Ghosts in College Park is a sobering, beautiful piece of theatrical work, with the young ensemble cast delivering heartfelt performances throughout under Ni Chaoimh's empathetic and perfect direction.


In last week's critique of Town is Dead, I incorrectly described author Phillip McMahon and composer Raymond Scannell as jointly being Thisispopbaby. Although they frequently collaborate, Scannell's partner in Thisispopbaby is Jennifer Jennings. Apologies all round.

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