If there was ever a week to see a play like I SEE YOU by Amy de Bhrún, currently running in Theatre Upstairs on Eden Quay, this is it. Not that this play couldn’t or shouldn’t be equally well received at any future date. And wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing if at some time in the future I SEE YOU audiences were to sit and marvel at how women like those on-stage were oppressed in the past?
Because this is a play about oppression. And fear. And misogyny. But it is also a play about strength. And moxie. And hope.
The outstanding element of I SEE YOU is the story of Lady Mary Heath, a trailblazer of aviation, born in 1896 in Limerick. The telling of this little piece of fascinating, but somehow forgotten, Irish history is worth the ticket-price on its own. And in a small theatre like Theatre Upstairs, where there is little room for one’s legs, and even less room for mediocre acting, the performance afforded it by writer/actor Amy de Bhrún was as flawless as I’ve seen. She was Lady Heath personified.
The play works to weave Lady Heath’s autobiography with the story of a modern-day Mary, the two women’s contrasting narratives shining a spotlight on a common thread of misogyny and male domination which has managed to weave its way through the centuries and into modern-day Ireland. It’s a funny, pacey, urgent play which uses poetry to great effect, employing a spoken word quality that meshes the two characters physically and emotionally, bringing them together across the stage and across a century’s divide.
At first, I questioned the choice of modern Mary and her apparent lack of gumption when laid bare against Lady Mary Heath’s ballsiness. Certainly, modern Mary’s situation was bleak, but she wasn’t subjected to intimate examinations in her place of work as Lady Mary Heath was in the early 20th century – ‘My menstrual cycle was seen as a disability. It is a nuisance, that is for certain, but I’d hardly call it a disability!’. I wondered at the validity of the juxtaposition of an aviation trailblazer with a Brown-Thomas-shopper of modern Mary. Certainly, both Marys are walled-in by men in their own way, but surely one has more choices? More options? More rights in this modern-day Ireland? I kept wondering about this all the way down the stairs and out onto Eden Quay, where I was confronted by graphic NO referendum posters and young men with church-funded fliers. I stopped wondering.
If there was ever a week to see a play like I SEE YOU by Amy de Bhrún, currently running in Theatre Upstairs on Eden Quay, this is it. Not because the play is a battle-cry for 8th amendment appealers – it’s so much more than that – rather because if you were wondering about how long women have been calling out for recognition, for equality, for dignity, listen to Lady Mary Heath’s story. And wonder no more.
(c) Sheena Lambert
Sheena Lambert is from Dublin, Ireland, where she worked as a engineer on landfill sites before leaving the glamour of waste management behind to focus on writing novels, plays and newspaper articles.
Her writing has been shortlisted in a number of prestigious UK competitions.
Her second novel, The Lake, is published by HarperCollins Killer Reads. Find out more at sheenalambertauthor.com