The Rising of the Moon – Bewley’s Café Theatre, Dublin

Reviewer: Claire Galligan

Writer: Lady Augusta Gregory

Director: Eoghan Carrick

The Rising of the Moon by Lady Augusta Gregory, founder of the Abbey Theatre, and patron of the Celtic Revival, is a political play that was first performed in 1907. The play’s main theme is about political awakening and political independence. The moon is the symbol which signifies the emergence of Irish freedom. The inspiration for the play arose when Gregory was passing the gaol in Galway as a child, she says I used to look in awe at the window where men were hung. I used to wonder if ever a prisoner might by some means climb high, buttressed wall and slip away in the darkness by the canal to the quays and hide him under a load of kelp in a fishing boat as happens to my ballad singing man.’

The play is set on a quayside in Ireland. Props are minimalist and well chosen to convey the landscape of the play designed by Chrysi Chatzivasileiou. Lighting and sound by Eoin Winning and Fiona Sheil creates a moonlight night. A hangman’s noose dangles overhead and is lit throughout to convey menace. Atmosphere is sustained by incessant ominous music, which does not detract from the playing. The policewoman played by Molly Whelan shines a torch around the parameters of the audience, and her intent is clear from the outset – to find the escaped rebel. This is sufficient to draw us into the action of the play and is instrumental in convincing us that we all could be culprits and escapees.

The Sergeant played by Michael Tient achieves the authoritarian stance of colonialism, but inwardly he grapples with his choice to become part of the oppressor which separates him from his peers. He says ‘Indeed it’s a hard thing to be in the force, out at night and no thanks for it, for all the danger we’re in. And it’s little we get but abuse from the people, and no choice but to obey our orders.’ Gregory is putting forward the idea that if the Sergeant had chosen a different path perhaps he too could be a rebel, a terrorist, or a dissident. He doesn’t have a choice, because his circumstances dictate otherwise – he is a married man with a family.

Michael Tient employs a declamatory style of acting which was fashionable in the Victorian and early Edwardian era used to great effect by Shakespearian actors such as Sir Henry Irving, and was a powerful means to convey tragedy and inner turmoil. Perhaps this was a deliberate method employed by the director Eoghan Carrick to situate the play in its period? However it does not work in the context of this play. Lady Gregory invented a language called ’Kiltartnaese’ which she developed through her early encounters with the native Irish that she met around her estate at Coole. To convey this style of writing, the dialogue needs delicate handling in speech, idioms, and cadence. The simplicity of the plot requires underplaying in order to achieve the effect of a political statement of the time. Unfortunately it is overplayed in a small space such as Bewley’s Café Theatre.

The role of the escaped rebel in the disguise of a ballad singer played by Oisin Thompson is the voice of the playwright. Oisin Thompson conveys skilfully a rebel of heroic qualities and a love of his country.

The costume of the Seargent and the other officer have been updated from the uniform of the Royal Irish Constabulary during the occupation of Ireland, to a police uniform which could belong to any occupier. Designed meticulously by Toni Bailey.

The Rising of the Moon is an important choice as we rarely have an opportunity to see Lady Gregory’s plays performed today. The theme of this play bravely written before Ireland became a Republic is still pertinent as the theme of oppressor and oppressed is still happening in the present climate across the globe.

Runs Until 6th April 2024.

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Brave Attempt

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