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putting on Yeats

Bosco hogan takes the stage, and you'd swear it was the shade of WB Yeats appearing before your eyes. It's not merely the roundy glasses and the silver hair in its trademark bob, but a physical embodiment of a presence. In this one-man show, Hogan takes us deftly through the life and times of the Nobel Laureate, poet, dramatist, spiritualist and statesman with humour, and in appropriately dulcet tones.

Reciting poetry is not for the faint of heart, and anyone who feels faint in the head at the notion of hearing it will be missing out. Hogan brings the works of Yeats to life and takes them off the page in a way that makes one wish to pull a few volumes down from the shelves in order to refresh one's memory of some of his more stirring poems. It is an enlivening experience, as poetry can be rather hard to read. Once presented by an accomplished actor with an excellent sense of rhythm and timing however, it makes one imagine why more poetry isn't read out on a more frequent basis.

The setting is an intimate tête-à-tête with the poet in Thoor Ballylee, Yeats's home near Lady Gregory's Coole Park; we are invited in to hear his reminiscences and given a digest version of the high points of his life. The text itself, by Edward Callan, however, takes some getting used to. At first, it appears to be a show whose narrative sections are going to be entirely offered in verse. Hogan is impeccable in his presentation, but one sometimes struggles to 'hook on' the information being given, because effort is being lost trying to follow the metre of the poetry.

It is with relief that prose presentations of Yeats's life come to the fore, and it is here, with, for example, Yeats's response to the 1916 Easter Rising, that the production finds a comfortable flow. There is little, though, that one feels one does not know already; this is less of a dramatisation of the man's life, and more a 'best of' overview.

It has to be said, however, that it is satisfying to hear Yeats's response to rioting during Seán O'Casey's The Plough and the Stars -- "You have disgraced yourselves again!" -- and to experience the thrill that theatre once had the power to inflame, whether or not (and in O'Casey's case, not) it intended to do so. If you are wont to forget just how influential Yeats was, this provides an excellent lesson, without making one feel like one is being taken back to school. HHHHI - SC

I Am of Ireland runs in Bewley's Café Theatre 'til 30 January. Book on info@bewleyscafetheatre.com