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BARRY'S BOOK GETS STAGE TREATMENT

There are two Tom Barrys in Guerilla Days in Ireland. One of them sits at his desk; an older, greying man, Scotch in one hand, cigarette in the other. He's writing his memoir and reading it aloud, for our benefit.

The other is still a young man of 23 and already he is commander of the 3rd West Cork Flying Column, training men for battle in the War of Independence. That's what overseas experience for the British Army will get you.

They are the same person, of course, but eventually the two will share a drink together. Because Guerilla Days in Ireland - based on Barry's book, and adapted for the stage by Neil Pearson - plays by its own set of rules.

Think of it as an explosive history lesson; a riveting show-and-tell that is both informative and cinematic in scope. The script could be better, mind (you should count how many times Barry/Pearson uses the word "suddenly"), but what matters is that Guerilla Days (the misspelling is intentional) shows us how a young Kerry lad went on to become one of the most famous - and controversial - freedom fighters in the Irish Republican Army in the early 20th Century.

TRICKY

We could argue that the production lacks a sort of swiftness and dexterity that comes only with shaping a story specifically designed for the theatre. But then, book-to-stage adaptations can be tricky, and the flaws are evident.

This happened to Tom . . . then that happened . . . we did what we had to do . . . and then . . . are you noticing a pattern? It's a good job the cast remember to bring their game.

There are volunteers, informants, RIC constables, auxiliaries, but there are only four actors involved, which means that each man (bar Brian Fenton, who sticks to his role as young Barry) is required to shift and change gears, sometimes within the same scene.

Away from the gunfire and destruction, we have meetings with Michael Collins (the pantomime version) and Eamon De Valera (likewise). Guerilla Days is a far better beast when attempting to uncover the compassion in Barry's ruthless leadership skills.

That said, it knows how to pile on the tension, and its clever use of movement and lighting adds an eerie chill to proceedings.

David O'Meara (older Barry) makes for a competent storyteller, Fenton is an exuberant force throughout and Jack Walsh is especially good, tackling a wide variety of characters. Barry's book was probably never envisioned as a play. All the more surprising, then, that it has turned out to be a decent one.

Running until Sunday


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