Saturday 19 October 2019

Theatre: Heartbreak, fanaticism and heroism

Drama and helpless humanity are all part of this superb Colin Murphy work

Don Wycherley, Ronan Leahy, Gavin Fullam in Inside The GPO, a superb play which brings the idiocy and heroism of the Rising to life Photo: Dan O'Neill
Don Wycherley, Ronan Leahy, Gavin Fullam in Inside The GPO, a superb play which brings the idiocy and heroism of the Rising to life Photo: Dan O'Neill

Emer O'Kelly

When Colin Murphy's Guaranteed! was staged by Fishamble, it caused a sensation: it filleted our banking crisis on behalf of the Irish people and gave us the comfort of feeling that somebody at least shared our outrage. Now he and Fishamble's Jim Culleton have come up with another piece of work that manages to be dramatically true (even if some liberties are taken with history) and wonderfully, humanly visceral.

In the Main Hall of the GPO in Dublin, the audience is given an opportunity to live through the fateful week of the 1916 Rising.

Murphy's magic in Inside the GPO is that he is not afraid to be irreverent about the people and events who are usually treated as though they wore haloes. Thus, we have little Tom Clarke, prison-worn and cynical, saying "Make sure Pearse stays at his desk and sticks to his writing," while at one stage the pragmatic Sean MacDiarmada bellows in frustration "There's enough leaders with a death wish here."

And we can only agree, as we watch the leaders prove that not only do they not have a battle plan, they also do not have the remotest notion of the kind of society they want to create post-rebellion: hence the much revered "Proclamation", drafted by Pearse without any sense of what its rhetoric involves. And we are left wondering if that is the reason that, far from "cherishing the children of the nation equally" we have spent the past century murdering each other in its name.

But what emerges in Murphy's superb play is the humanity of the men and women who occupied the GPO, with MacDiarmada taking lessons in bowling googlies from a captured British officer, and Connolly asking The O'Rahilly why there is a definite article before his name: "It's an old Gaelic title," O'Rahilly tells him. "Where I come from," Connolly snarls in his Scots accent, "It's men's actions, not their titles, that matter."

And there is a chilling reminder of more recent events when the garrison is shaken by the death of an innocent passer-by, and Pearse dismisses it with "there are always accidents in war." Of whom does that remind today's generation?

Inside the GPO brings the reality of the Rising to life in all its idiocy and heroism: it deserves to be remembered as pivotal in our centenary commemoration, worth 20 militaristic displays and wreath-laying.

Culleton's direction is breath-taking and the cast, led by Ronan Leahy as Pearse, Aidan Kelly as Connolly, Don Wycherley as The O'Rahilly, Michael Glenn Murphy as Clarke and Manus Halligan as Mac Diarmada are, without exception, faultless.

Niamh Lunny designs, lighting is by Mark Galione, with sound by Carl Kennedy.

Inside the GPO is deeply moving and utterly memorable: a theatrical production not to be missed.

"Inside the GPO" deserves to be remembered as pivotal.

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