Omnibus Theatre, Clapham, London – until 6 November 2018
Reviewed by Lisa Harlow
Take yourself back just over 100 years to 1916, and if life was not turbulent enough due to the trials of the First World War, Dublin was further rocked by an uprising. Several groups led the rebellion, united in fighting against what they believed to be Ireland’s acquiescence to Westminster during the War. And so, a bloody week began in the name of Ireland’s ‘national right to freedom and sovereignty’.
Lizzie Nunnery (playwright) takes us into the midst of this intense violent fog to witness conversations between Frank Sheehy-Skeffington (Gerard Kearns), a dedicated pacifist and spearhead of the Women’s Suffragette movement, with a starving and naive soldier (Robbie O’Neill) following his arrest. Frank firmly questions the soldier’s strict adherence to his duties when the ethics of his arrest and the activities of the soldiers he had experienced were under serious question. In spite of the contrast between the characters’ stance, as each develop their understanding of the other, a softness unravels in the interchanges, an understanding. Frank’s intelligence is both emotional and spiritual, and his demeanour remains calm, until the disbelief and desperation at the situation he finds himself in crescendos through Gerard’s excellent performance.
In parallel, we experience the encounter between the bereft wife of Frank, Hanna (Elinor Lawless) starched by shock and anger, and Sir Francis’ (Russell Richardson) red-faced exhortations trying to desperately put all blame on one loose cannon. Here the dynamics remain confrontational and unresolved.
The dialogues alternate with mournful tunes; all vocals and instruments are skilfully performed by the actors, creating an atmosphere heavy with grief and disbelief. Hanna leads with pleading eyes and clear voice. The set is chaotic, reflecting the houses that were ‘like doll houses torn open’ by the fighting and violence. Items become percussion instruments to accompany the dark songs that pepper the interchanges.
This is an intense short play, and the acting can be certainly commended. The accents never waver and the dialogue for Sheehy-Skeffington is particularly a highlight.