Rous­ing pro­duc­tion flies Oyster Lane’s flag high

Wexford People - - NEWS - Re­view by Anna Hayes

PACKED HOUSES and stand­ing ova­tions greeted the ta­lented group from Oyster Lane Theatre Group, who staged a ster­ling mu­si­cal recre­ation of the life of Michael Collins.

It is a story that most of us are very fa­mil­iar with, par­tic­u­larly if you did Leav­ing Cert his­tory prior to 2006, but mainly be­cause RTE shows the Neil Jor­dan movie as of­ten as it pos­si­bly can! Open­ing with the an­nounc­ing of the 1916 Ris­ing, the au­di­ence is brought through Collins’ life from Fron­goch to Beal na Blath, with drama and ro­mance in be­tween.

A rel­a­tively new mu­si­cal, it first pre­mièred in 2009 to great ac­claim. In­deed, scor­ing the rights for it this year was some­thing of a coup for the group who had ini­tially planned to stage ‘Guys and Dolls’.

There is much to ad­mire in Bryan Flynn’s mu­si­cal. The ensem­ble num­bers are rous­ing and suit­ably an­them like. ‘Fly The Flag’ and ‘Ev­ery Heart Awaken’ stir the blood, per­haps in a slightly jin­go­is­tic way, but mostly be­cause this is his­tory that is so re­cent, the cen­te­nar­ies of which we are liv­ing through now.

The front line cast mem­bers are all ex­cel­lent. Chris Cur­rid is suit­ably com­mand­ing in the ti­tle role and there is a rich­ness to his voice that car­ries his num­bers, be they rous­ing dec­la­ra­tions of pa­tri­o­tism or love, or torn laments for the dev­as­ta­tion that came as a re­sult of war.

His death scene at the end of the show is a re­mark­ably poignant piece of theatre, the slow-mo­tion por­trayal dra­mat­i­cally im­pact­ful and mov­ing.

Denise Bren­nan cuts a charm­ing fig­ure as Kitty Kier­nan, the woman torn be­tween two men, and her duets with Cur­rid are par­tic­u­larly strik­ing.

James McDer­mott as Harry Boland sim­mers as the man scorned, the friend turned en­emy - the very essence of the Civil War. Sean Hend­ley’s phys­i­cal stature makes him per­fect for the De Valera role. While his in­ter­ac­tion is lim­ited in the first act, his clashes with Collins in the sec­ond act are fiery, in par­tic­u­lar his ‘rivers of Ir­ish blood’ speech. Fi­nally, James Dobbs ex­cels as Collins’ right-hand man Joe Em­met, scat­ter­ing in and out of the scenes like a Jack Rus­sell chas­ing a rat. He por­trays gen­uine af­fec­tion and ad­mi­ra­tion for his leader and his an­guish at the end is gut-wrench­ing.

A nice touch is the in­ter­wo­ven scenes from WB Yeats’ and Lady Gre­gory’s ‘Cath­leen ni Houli­han’, given that Yeats’ poem ‘Easter, 1916’ was one of the works that most vividly cap­tured the legacy of the Ris­ing. Per­formed by Yvette Walsh, Neal O’Leary, Ni­amh Bol­ger and Gearoid McCauley, with Louise Dil­lon as Mother Ire­land, it jux­ta­poses nicely into the events of Collins’ life.

With a mu­si­cal like this, and a story that peo­ple know so well, it has to be a chal­lenge as to what events are as­signed more sig­nif­i­cance than oth­ers, while work­ing within the con­fines of a rea­son­able run­ning time.

The Leav­ing Cert his­tory stu­dent in me was finicky about cer­tain things like con­tex­tu­al­is­ing the tim­ing of the Ris­ing in com­par­i­son to WWI but that’s pure nit­pick­ing on my part.

That said, for a mu­si­cal keen to high­light the drama of our tur­bu­lent his­tory, it left out what was prob­a­bly the most dra­matic mo­ment of that pe­riod - the shoot­ing of the seven sig­na­to­ries of the Procla­ma­tion.

The ex­e­cu­tion of the 1916 lead­ers was as piv­otal as the event it­self, par­tic­u­larly the killing of James Con­nolly be­cause of the in­hu­man­ity of how it was car­ried out. That was the bul­let that turned the pub­lic opin­ion, that changed the course of Ir­ish his­tory, and cre­ated an at­mos­phere in which Collins was able to stamp in­flu­ence.

And, done well, it could have been a strik­ingly pow­er­ful and evoca­tive way of im­mers­ing the au­di­ence in the sen­ti­ment of the time.

Hav­ing said that, it’s an is­sue with the source ma­te­rial rather than the over­all pro­duc­tion which could not be faulted.

On­stage in the Oyster Lane Theatre Group pro­duc­tion of Michael Collins in the Dun Mhuire Theatre: Yvette Walsh, Gearóid McCauley, James Dobbs, Neal O’Leary and Ni­amh Bol­ger.

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