Pros: Its well-researched and original approach to the dark times of Irish history.
Cons: Being unfamiliar with the topic, I found the play difficult to enjoy.
Set backstage during the performances of ground-breaking Irish plays like Yeats’ Cathleen ni Houlihan in 1902, Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World in 1907 and O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars in 1926, the drama offers an intimate and well-researched perspective on events that led to the Irish Civil War. However if, like me, you come from a different background and don’t know much about this historical period, you might fail to appreciate the value of Neil Weatherall’s intellectual work.
Taking the audience backstage to witness private conversations between Yeats (Tim Hayward), Lady Gregory (Cath Humphry) and Pearse (Justin McKenna) is a brilliant idea and offers an original and informed approach to some of the darkest times of history between Britain and Ireland. The subject is made even more pertinent by the current talks on Brexit and its effects on the Northern Ireland Peace Process, the pressure for the Scottish independence, and the rise of popular nationalism across Europe.
Playwright Neil Weatherall previously undertook high-level roles as a liaison between a major defence contractor and some prominent political institutions, as well as holding RAF intelligence roles in Afghanistan. For his second play, he takes on the role of Director but, despite a cast who all look very much the part, and ingenious staging, he can’t quite offer the necessary charisma to produce a compelling performance.
With just a black curtain and a few stools, the set of the Hen and Chickens Theatre is bare, the lighting inconspicuous and the noise coming from the pub below fortuitously suited to the setting. All three characters show a lack of direction, appearing on stage lifeless and often delivering their dialogues as if they were reading them out loud. Despite its short 50-minute running time, the play is not engaging enough and there is an evident gap between the creative’s intention and its translation into action on stage.
The Passion of the Playboy Riots touches on a fascinating subject, whatever is the audience’s cultural background but, in order to be accessible to a wider and more diverse crowd, it could offer a clearer introduction that helps to set the historical context. The story of those people who single-handedly initiated the political and cultural revolution of a whole country, deserves more visceral presentation.
Writer and Director: Neil Weatherall
Producer: Cameron Bell
Box Office: 020 7704 2001
Booking Link: https://www.unrestrictedview.co.uk/the-irish- play/
Booking Until: 8 July 2017