Even before a word has been spoken on stage you sense you are in secure hands here. The theatre space of the little Jermyn Street Theatre is red plush lovely and the set transports you to the interior of the best sort of Irish pub where wistful music is being played on violins, guitars and traditional Irish instruments by the same performers who are about to take you through an enjoyable perspective of a shared Anglo-Irish history by means of drama, song, poetry and archived words.
Within moments of the performance opening the charm of the island that is Ireland has been described with the beautiful poem, Dark Rosaleen, as well as the past suffering of its people, potently described in a letter written by Roger Casement to Mrs Nina Newman in July 1916. And so it is, you are brought to a fast understanding, in a way that watching years of TV news clips of The Troubles did not do, as to why so many of the Irish have been so very angry with the English. We are shown that, for more than seven hundred years, Ireland’s resources had been exploited for the benefit of England while the Irish were mostly treated as if they were of no consequence whatsoever.
And so it is, even if you are not Irish, or your Irish ancestry has been previously largely ignored, you are brought to a place of empathy by gaining insights in the next ninety minutes which will shift your interior furniture about. That’s what this show will do for you.
The author, Sir Christopher Bland, is well placed to do this, having the dual perspective of an Anglo-Irish heritage. As a former chairman of the BBC, LWT and the Royal Shakespeare Company, he and his team have created a first rate show of quality. His director, Donnacadh O’Briain, does not forget the dramatic impact of loveliness as he presents this fascinating history lesson about a familiar conflict.
The words of many of Ireland’s great men give key ballast. What a gift are the words of Roger Casement. His speech about loyalty, given in Court after he has been sentenced to death by firing squad for his part in the uprising are unforgettable, perhaps the pivot point of the show. He says loyalty is a sentiment, it is about love, not law. The jurors say afterwards they would have acquitted him, if he had made this speech before they reached their decision that he should die.
All the cast are superb, musicians as well as performers of talent. Ruairi Conaghan is charismatic and charming as he represents the views of many in the North of Ireland. The Reverend Paisley he most certainly is not, which is a relief. Tim Van Eyken has done a fantastic job as the musical director and, also, ably sheds and assumes identities as he does his jackets. Grainne Keenan is feisty. The success of the production in portraying women’s roles in this drama owes much to her. Maeve O’Sullivan, sings movingly, bringing with her role the sense of an important gentleness of spirit to this production. In which Ireland is described as a she.
The show gradually assumes a special focus on Michael Mahony, as Michael Collins. So effective is he in this thoughtful representation that, when he dies, about ten minutes before the ending of the show, some of the narrative energy dies with him, to be restored in the last minutes as the effect of all that has happened before is brought to bear on the present day.
There has to be a special mention for the set, which is filled with numerous small items of special meaning. During the show photographs from the period are fixed to the back wall, bringing a direct connection to the people who lived and died in Ireland one hundred years ago. Members of the audience were notably intrigued by them and wandered about, examining and discussing them, after the end of the performance. The lighting design by Richard Williamson is a marvel for sure, transforming the sense of comfort and discomfort as well as place, back and forth. Very well done.
This is a first rate production which deserves a bigger house
Review by Marian Kennedy
April 24 1916 – Easter Monday – a group of Irish nationalists stage a rebellion against the ruling British government in Ireland in an attempt to establish an Irish Republic. Some 1,600 rebels seize prominent buildings in Dublin and clash with British troops on the streets of the capital. Within a week, the insurrection is suppressed and more than 2,000 people are dead or injured. The leaders of the rebellion are executed. A few years later an Irish Free State is established. Yet, over the following century the events of that week and their immediate aftermath have cast a long shadow over Ireland and continue to shape Anglo-Irish relations today.
Timed to coincide with the centenary of the insurrection, Christopher Bland’s The Easter Rising – and thereafter is part drama, part revue, filled with Irish song performed by the cast. Incorporating poems, lyrics and speeches by W.B. Yeats, Dominic Behan, James Mangan, Louis MacNeice, Walter Savage Landor, Roger Casement, Winston Churchill, Sean O’Casey and others, it reveals the contrasting takes on the Easter Rising, the War of Independence, the Civil War and their legacies for Britain and Ireland. Shedding light on this often skewed period of history and in so doing, illuminating it.
HARTSHORN – HOOK PRODUCTIONS
Presents the world premiere of
THE EASTER RISING – and thereafter
By Christopher Bland
Director Donnacadh O’Briain
Designer Petra Hjortsber
Lighting Designer Richard Williamson
Jermyn Street Theatre
April 26 to 30 2016