Writer/Director: Grace Dyas
Reviewer: Monica Insinga
History is the perfect play to end the year of the centenary of the Irish Lockout, as it is a call for action. With this play that premiered this week at Project Arts Centre and ends its first run tonight, THEATREclub completes its trilogy about Ireland, that started with Heroin (2010, winner of the Spirit of the Fringe Award) and The Family (2012). This is the story of a place and the people that lived there for a hundred years; it is the story of St. Michael’s Estate, Dublin and of all of Ireland; most of all, it tells the audience what to do when some basic human rights—equality and the right to a house—are denied. It turns a local story into History since “what happened here, happened everywhere.”
The show is overtly post-dramatic even before the start: as we collect our tickets at the box office, Lauren Larkin (who plays Mother Ireland in all its green splendour) tells us she is one of the actors and gives us an envelope with some land from St. Michael’s Estate. She asks us to pay attention during the play and write down how much that land was worth in 2008 and how much is worth now, thus implying that money is one of the core issues at the centre of the play. One after the other, all the cast and crew are introduced by their names and by which parts they are going to play, and right from the start, Gerard Kelly announces that they are going to tell us the truth, albeit a version of the truth.
The show, bearing THEATREclub’s trademark devising and improvising style, expresses the idea that “if we’re going to move forward, we have to look back” (Larkin in History promo video). It starts with Kelly, Barry O’Connor and Shane Byrne playing a group of soldiers that died during the Easter Rising 1916 or were imprisoned in Richmond Barracks (that in 1922 became Keogh Square and then St. Michael’s Estate in 1970) after the Rising. So, even though it starts with the most important historical event in modern Irish history, Kelly asks us to remember the Barracks, as this is really its story. Doireann Coady’s white stage perfectly embraces all the changes that happened to the landscape of the area over the last hundred years. Through repetition, endless plans and discussions that end in nothing, this outstanding cast (Larkin, Kelly, Byrne, Louise Lewis and O’Connor) takes us to the heart of the problem: “we’re suffering, we’re surviving, I [Ireland] want to live.”
The play comes across as a fusion of elements, from great music that makes it fluid and seamless even though packed with detailed dialogue (composed and played by Kelly, O’Connor and musical director, Seán Millar). Another layer is represented by production videos and archival footage put together by the visionary Joe Lee. Last, but not least, the all-too-important lighting by Eoin Winning constantly and repeatedly blends the stage area with the audience, allowing the cast to continuously interact with us and us with them. This essentially signals the rôle of the audience, as an integral part of the production that in the last half an hour reveals its true purpose as outlined in the programme: “It’s a play as part of a protest.”
This is political theatre at its best, asking: “Will you be there? Will you walk with us?”
Runs until December 22nd