Inside the GPO
Fishamble, online via You Tube
There were a goodly number of productions staged in commemoration of the 1916 Rising in 2016. Their quality as well as their political compass varied considerably. The one that impressed me most, by more than a country mile, was Fishamble’s Inside the GPO.
Director Jim Culleton had the vision (or maybe just the chutzpah) to get permission to take over the main hall of the GPO on O’Connell Street for the staging. That in itself was eerie for the audience, as a group of men and women crashed in, several shouting orders, all noticeably riding on adrenalin.
They were some of the leading men and women of the Rising, the characters in Colin Murphy’s play.
Murphy took no political stance: this was just a snapshot of that week of frantic hope in the spring of 1916, disintegrating into confused, disappointed despair as a hopeless position born of confusion and military inexperience became more and more evident.
Also increasingly evidenced in this carefully constructed piece were the widely differing points of view held by the men — the women, whatever is said by the revisionists, were somewhat peripheral.
It even offered a credible hypothesis (amounting for some to commemorative treason): Pearse is represented as hysterically fanatical for blood for the sake of it, leading to his being regarded with amused contempt by Connolly and the embittered Tom Clarke, as they suggest he be kept out of the way with pen and paper.
Clarke, after all, was already scarred for Ireland, having spent years in gaol in England for what to him was patriotism, and to the authorities was subversion.
His widow would carry his legacy, having little time for her fellow Cumann na mBan prisoners Constance Markievicz and Maud Gonne, whose middle-class snobbery tried to put her in her place while they were in gaol together.
For Connolly, success was to be defined by the defeat of capitalism. Artillery would not be used against the city, because “capitalists will never destroy capital”, he declares naively.
For Tom Clarke, an Irish flag flying in a free Ireland would be everything, no matter the kind of Ireland.
The O’Rahilly, proudly explaining the ancient provenance of his title to the sceptical Connolly, receives a knee-jerk “working man’s” sneer.
And Sean MacDiarmada, lame, a dreamer rather than activist, remains torn between hope for a ”normal” future with his beloved Min Ryan, and the devastation which he suspects the rebels are letting loose.
There is even an undercurrent in the men’s heads (with the possible exception of Pearse’s) that their cause is not the will of the people.
Five years on, Fishamble have revived the production, filmed live in 2016, and upgraded and re-mastered it for this Easter, with the aid of Culture Ireland and the Department of Arts and Culture.
But there are now co-producers in a wide selection of Irish Heritage and Culture centres in the US. It may have meant a broader reach, but the influence is not a good one.
What was a thought-provoking, dramatically tragic account of the humanity of that collection of men who would address history in the name of “the dead generations” has somehow been subtly altered to suggest a kind of Irish-American keening for a shamrock-laden Motherland that never was.
It’s hard to define, but the most visible element is to have the evacuation of the GPO by the doomed men followed by Pearse, in close-up, lugubriously reading the Proclamation. Ronan Leahy does his best, but it’s embarrassing rather than inspiring.
Aidan Kelly is Connolly, Michael Glenn Murphy is Tom Clarke, Manus Halligan is Sean MacDiarmada, Don Wycherley is The O’Rahilly, and Karen Ardiff is Mary Louisa Norway.
Orla Fitzgerald is Winifred Carney, Liz FitzGibbon is Min Ryan, and there’s a support cast from the Gaiety School of Acting (who I think rather showed themselves still in need of some training in stage technique).
Culleton’s direction remains powerful, but Mark Galione’s lighting doesn’t transfer too successfully from stage to film.
However, Inside the GPO remains a compelling piece of drama. It has been available on YouTube since Thursday, and can be seen tonight and tomorrow night to mark the 105th anniversary of the Rising.