Pros: A great mix of poems, speeches and songs offering a new perspective on the Irish question.
Cons: Ostensibly a history lesson, which might be lost on those who lack real passion for the subject.
Henry Ford once said all history is bunk; the only history worth a tinker’s damn is the history we make today. I’ve never agreed with Ford’s view; yesterday is the birthplace of today and only by understanding the past can we hope to live a better life. Ireland is defined by its history, one that still clings to its present and future. What better way to mark the centenary of the Easter Rising than a play featuring traditional Irish verse and song?
Every leading political figure in the 50 years preceding the Easter Rising makes an appearance. An eight-strong cast take on a variety of characters as they each state their case for a better Ireland; James Mangan, Rory O’Connor, James Connelly, Michael Collins and Eamon De Valera all take their bows as true patriots; Louis MacNeice, Ulster poet and playwright is a lone voice representing the loyalist North and frequently jousts with nationalist firebrands Eoin MacNeill and Bulmer Hobson. All protagonists challenge, cajole and josh with each other, as every major landmark pre and post 1916 is dusted down and analysed; the Irish Potato Famine; pressure for Home Rule; the War of Independence 1919-1921; the murderous reign of the Black and Tans; partition of North and South and the Civil War of 1922-1923. A smattering of songs provide some contrast to the rhetoric, as the fiercely Republican Boys of Kilmichael is juxtaposed with the proudly loyalist The sash my father wore.
As I watched, quietly engrossed in the power of the story, I realised Irish history is inextricably linked to English history; and these larger than life characters equally belong to the story of two islands; Great Britain and Ireland. The cast were excellent throughout the piece, however Keith Dunphy as James Mangan, Ruairi Conaghan as Louis MacNeice and Jack Beale as Eamon De Valera shone most brightly.
Christopher Bland has achieved a rare feat in condensing a turbulent period of Ireland’s history into a user friendly 90 minute play. This play conforms to the Reithian principle that a play must entertain, educate and inform; it does all three, but assumes a pre-existing knowledge of Irish history. Those in a Henry Ford state of mind may miss the point altogether.
Author: Christopher Bland
Director: Donnacadh O’Briain
Musical Director: Tim Van Eyken
Producer: Hartshorn Hook Productions
Box Office: 0207 287 2875
Booking link: http://www.jermynstreettheatre.co.uk/show/easter-rising-and-thereafter/
Booking until: 30 April 2016/this show has now completed its run