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Marching on Embers – Seven Arts, Leeds

Writer: Chris O’Connor

Director: Ruth Carney

Designer: Kevin Jenkins

Reviewer: Ron Simpson

Buglight Theatre’s thoughtful new production examines how recent political events might re-shape attitudes to the Irish Republican cause. At a time when moderate Republicans savour a period of comparative peace and project a gradual move to a united Ireland, Brexit potentially puts up the barriers again and shows how little the needs and wishes of Northern Ireland hold sway with mainland politicians. And, if you’re going to resume the armed struggle, what better time than when the security forces are occupied with Islamic terrorists?

Chris O’Connor’s play centres on the Connolly family, a fine Republican family with a fine Republican name. The father, a member of the IRA, was murdered during the Troubles (by whom we learn in the second half of the play). Now all the family remains committed to the cause, but what does committed mean? For Sinead, studying for her master’s degree in England, belief in a united Republican Ireland doesn’t stop her extending her sympathy to victims on the other side – even the British Army. She is worldly and cosmopolitan enough to plan to take a good job in England, to the horror of Florie, her mother, whose kindness and care for others co-exist with implacable convictions, though her aim is to live each day as it comes, her main concern her family.

The son, Sean, feels that his community has been sold short, but he, too, believes in making the best of life which he does cheerfully down the pub with Cathal, a former boyfriend of Sinead, who takes a quite different view, rejoicing in a political situation that can revive the armed struggle. 

The first half of the play skilfully presents these attitudes without much happening. We begin and end with intersecting monologues for all four characters. In between, conversations in home and pub frequently amuse while stressing the love within the family and teasing out one or two plot trailers. Cathal is clearly trying to recruit Sean – will he succeed?

Though skilfully written with believable characters, the debate and the diversity of views are somewhat formulaic and we can work out fairly early that the play will end with some sort of an explosion, possibly metaphorical, more likely literal. When it happens, however, it is both shocking and convincing, set off by a plot contrivance, but finally driven by a bitter irony.

The women are particularly strongly characterised, Maggie Hayes powerfully and sympathetically encompassing the many sides of Florie and Christine Clare radiating intelligent open-mindedness, together with conviction and a sense of tradition, as Sinead. Like the two women, Barrie Calvert (Sean) makes much of the affectionately amusing family scenes. Richard Galloway’s Cathal has a tendency to speak in slogans, but his humanity is never in doubt, not least in a sweetly played scene with Florie early in the second half.

Ruth Carney’s unfussy direction and Kevin Jenkins’ imaginative and functional pub-and-kitchen set work well in the intimate setting of Seven Arts (and other venues on tour), the actors directly involving the audience in the debate behind the struggle.

Touring Regionally | Image: Contributed 

Writer: Chris O’Connor Director: Ruth Carney Designer: Kevin Jenkins Reviewer: Ron Simpson Buglight Theatre’s thoughtful new production examines how recent political events might re-shape attitudes to the Irish Republican cause. At a time when moderate Republicans savour a period of comparative peace and project a gradual move to a united Ireland, Brexit potentially puts up the barriers again and shows how little the needs and wishes of Northern Ireland hold sway with mainland politicians. And, if you’re going to resume the armed struggle, what better time than when the security forces are occupied with Islamic terrorists? Chris O’Connor’s play centres…

Review Overview

The Reviews Hub Score

Thoughtful and powerful

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One comment

  1. I saw the play in Doncaster and really enjoyed it – your review captured it really well.

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