Sunday, 10 June 2018

REVIEW: I am of Ireland at the Red lion Pub, Islington

Ireland throughout history has had a turbulent time and even now 20 years after the Good Friday agreement the discussion of Eire, Northern Ireland and their relationship with mainland UK remains a significant political debate. Seamus Finnegan’s new play takes WB Yates poem “I am of Ireland” as it’s starting point to explore the history of the last 100 years and the influences of religion and nationalism have had on the people of Ireland. It is clearly autobiographical in parts with characters based on school friends, his own education and left wing politics in Manchester and living as an exiled Irishman in England.

He explores the impact on the mainly men during the Troubles through six slowly played out situations into which he weaves the historical and religious changes. It is an intense, complicated puzzle to piece together which seeks to give us an understanding of the people today. During multiple scenes spread over two hours fifteen minutes (perhaps thirty minutes too long) we learn about: The 1916 Easter rising; 1964 Republic flag removed from a shop window: 1972 Bloody Sunday; 1981 Hunger strike deaths; The significance of the Milltown cemetery in the Falls road; the Casement Park killings and the influence of Roman Catholic and Protestant priests on the lives of the families we meet. As one character says “there is a lot of hate in Ireland” and another says “faith and understanding don’t sit together”. The story follows five men driven by interest in politics, religion, literature and girls and played by seven actors in over twenty parts across six story lines.

We meet Mary (Saria Steel) who wants to be a nun and the impact it has on her mother Theresa and father Joseph. It is a simple tale of the anguish her decision causes. We meet Father Adams (Sean Stewart) a disgraced Roman Catholic priest of twenty years sent away by his Bishop to cover up his crime and the Bishops defence of denominational schools where the children can be indoctrinated with the religious fervour.

More shocking is the stabbing of Father Flanagan (Jerome Ngonadi), a Caribbean priest of Irish decent in a Belfast park by Barry, a young racist thug, and the police rather casual investigation. Or, the encounter between Derek (Angus Castle-Doughty), another 18 year old terrorist, who meets a legendary terrorist in prison, Sammy Nelson, and we see both the anger and torment leading to dramatic consequences.

The last two storylines are more gently told but just as strikingly impactful. Harry (Richard Fish) has remained in Belfast all his life and meets his old school friend, Sean, of thirty years ago at the funeral of another school friend. Sean left for London and his alienation from Harry is coldly spelt out over each scene, he is an Irishman but a deserter of the causes. Finally we meet Dominic (Euan Macnaughton) first at school where the frighteningly sincere father Finlay (Shenagh Govan) threatens him with “his whole body burning in hell for eternity” for committing mortal sins while on retreat overlooking Belfast as a young boy. The effect seems to be that he becomes an IRA terrorist killing RUC members. Dominic is given rather too much exposition in his lines but his scenes are chilling.

The acting is superb throughout, each establishing the characters quickly and with intense passion to paint a picture of a still divided nation. Director Ken McClymont makes the cast work hard, but it is a complex play and while it provides insights into their motivations and influences it does not offer an optimistic view of the Irish peoples future and spends too long looking back at the past which has scarred their lives.

Review by Nick Wayne

Rating: ★★★

Seat: Unreserved | Price of Ticket: £19
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