Former Taoiseach of Ireland Bertie Ahern recently rejected a suggestion that the country would follow the UK out of the European Union saying “We’re mad, but we’re not that mad”. It was a wonderfully funny and typically self-deprecating Irish remark! There has always been a hint of madness about many of the Irish that makes them, in turn, enchanting and terrifying. Gerry Moynihan’s brilliant new play Continuity gets to the heart of this paradox. Paul Kennedy’s portrayal of the only character Padraig Devlin is sympathetic and engaging with humour and pathos co-existing with terror. He is a sensitive man who loves and frolics with passion – he is also an active member of a “Continuity IRA” terrorist cell.
To those of us who haven’t caught up with developments on the Republican side in Northern Ireland in recent years, and who assumed that the era of peace and cooperation which followed the Good Friday agreement still existed, this play will come as a shock. The Continuity Republicans, as Devlin puts it, are involved in a “Reaffirmation of the struggle and are not selling out”. We are in Derry in 2017 where Devlin and his friends Joe and Eamon are planning bomb attacks – they see themselves as the “Inheritors of the goals of the men of 1914”. The enemy is the British occupiers of the North but also the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). And anyone who has contact with the PSNI is a traitor. “Justice” is swift on those who won’t toe the line of republicanism. One unfortunate had his
legs broken for being a drug dealer but worst was to befall Padraig’s sister. She is seen to be a PSNI informer and for this, she is brutally murdered by Joe and Eamon who turn to Padraig and say “Nothing personal Padraig, it’s political”.
The back story is that Eamon’s father had a generation ago been executed by Padraig’s IRA man father for some disloyalty to the cause. There is an undercurrent of revenge here. At the funeral and wake Padraig’s mother breaks down – as well she might. “My only daughter. My beautiful wee girl.” Her killers are present and paying their respects – that madness which separates the personal from the political is ever present. It is present also in Padraig’s relationship with a young Spanish girl Jorja. He spots her coming into a bar where she seems a “happy chick” and they soon become serious. Jorja wants Padraig to join her in Barcelona but he says “People like me don’t run away” – “which way is the heart?” he asks. Well, the answer seems to be that the heart is with the cause – “It’s in the blood”.
The “Continuity IRA” is a small, extreme group and the effects of its activities are small at the moment – but not to be ignored. We have just seen the case of the British Royal Marine Ciaran Maxwell who has been jailed for 18 years for helping the Continuity IRA by stashing explosives and ammunition ahead of a terror campaign. In Continuity Gerry Moynihan shows us that although the wide scale terrorism of the years of the “troubles” has gone there are still pockets of violent nationalism at work in Ireland. But this is not a documentary play – it is very human. Although we only see one character, Padraig, those people he describes become quite real to us over the course of the 75 minutes of the play. The story reaches its inevitable conclusion at the end – suffice to say here that the last words spoken are “It’s not political, it’s personal”. Irish republicanism is described as the snake that kills itself in order to keep itself alive. A depressing thought but a hundred years on who is to argue? As with any struggle which overspills into violence many if not all of the victims are innocent. The circle of violence seems incapable of being broken and the voices calling for peace or asking that there is a “turning of the other cheek” are often overwhelmed by the louder voices calling for revenge – and “freedom”. Moynihan’s play is not presenting any political case nor is it preaching solutions. He lets his intelligent, engaging, vulnerable and articulate creation Padraig Devlin tell the story in his own language with his own emotions.
Paul Kennedy’s fine performance brings Devlin to life and notwithstanding what he is (a killer, not to put too fine a point on it) we cannot but like him. Which in itself perhaps makes us ask ourselves some questions as well.
Review by Paddy Briggs
“The whole game seems tae have changed… or maybe it isn’t so much that they have changed.
Maybe it’s just that I’m startin’ tae see things in a different light?.”
Pádraig Devlin is a dissident Irish Republican, who begins to have doubts about his commitment to The Cause after he meets and falls in love with a woman from Barcelona. Soon after meeting her, Pádraig botches three assignments in a row. The other members of his terrorist cell decide to test the love-struck Pádraig’s commitment. Has falling in love really weakened the resolve of a man determined to re-ignite the struggle for Irish freedom, and whose Republican credentials are beyond reproach? And just exactly what kind of test do they plan to set him? And how will Pádraig react when he discovers that he’s being tested…
Continuity is the story of a man who begins to question everything he has ever fought for – and marks a stunning debut from a brand new playwright.
Paul Kennedy – Padraig Devlin
Directed by Shane Dempsey
Designed by May Jennifer Davies
Lighting by Steven Owen
Sound by Anna Clock
Movement by Steffany George
Presented by Mark Stuart Flynn in association with Neil McPherson for the Finborough Theatre.