To Have to Shoot Ir­ish­men

The Guardian - G2 - - Live Reviews - Miriam Gillinson

★★★★☆ Om­nibus, Lon­don, un­til 20 Oc­to­ber Then tour­ing

Two Ir­ish men sit on op­po­site sides of a prison wall in Dublin. In­side the cell is Frank, a repub­li­can paci­fist who re­fuses to join the Easter Ris­ing. Out­side stands An­glo-Ir­ish teenager Wil­liam, a new re­cruit to the Bri­tish army. The two can­not see each other but they lis­ten to, laugh with and con­sole each other. By the end of Lizzie Nun­nery’s fine new play, Frank will have died on Wil­liam’s watch. It is just one of count­less stir­ring scenes in a songled show that boils over with the chaos of war.

Nun­nery has a strong track record of work­ing with his­tor­i­cal ma­te­rial and cre­at­ing some­thing that feels fresh and dy­namic on stage. To Have to Shoot Ir­ish­men is based on the real-life mur­der of Ir­ish paci­fist and Manch­ester Guardian jour­nal­ist Fran­cis Shee­hySk­eff­in­g­ton. Nun­nery wears her re­search lightly and ex­presses her ideas in tum­bling po­etry, lively di­a­logue and haunt­ing song. Not a syl­la­ble or beat is wasted. Direc­tor Gemma Kerr’s pro­duc­tion never feels over­stuffed and there is an easy rhythm to al­most ev­ery scene.

The songs were co-writ­ten with Vi­dar Norheim and tingle with the hope and desolation char­ac­ter­is­tic of Ir­ish folk mu­sic. The ex­cel­lent four-strong cast sing in frag­ile uni­son. Frank (Ger­ard Kearns) sits at the pi­ano, which stands above a bar­ri­cade of rub­ble in Rachael Rooney’s el­e­gantly shat­tered set. Frank’s wife, Hanna, played by a steely Eli­nor Law­less, sings in the shad­ows while Rus­sell Richard­son’s stiff Bri­tish army gen­eral taps out dis­jointed rhythms among the rocks. The har­monies tease us; they prom­ise a warm res­o­lu­tion that will never be found.

And then there are the im­ages, vi­brant and shock­ing. Frank de­scribes a boy who is shot while hap­pily wav­ing the Ir­ish flag: “As he turned from gleam­ing show to flesh – to part­ing flesh.” He re­mem­bers his young son pre­tend­ing to play chess, me­chan­i­cally re­peat­ing the moves of his fa­ther: “He hadn’t a clue how to play the game but he knew for cer­tain he had to frown while he did it.” Just like that, the hered­i­tary na­ture of war is re­vealed.

Chaos of war ... Rob­bie O’Neill and Ger­ard Kearns

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