Review by: Sheena Lambert for writing.ie
As part of their public engagement programme to commemorate the Decade of Centenaries, University College Dublin commissioned a theatre piece entitled Signatories, in which eight world class Irish writers present the seven signatories, along with Nurse Elizabeth O’Farrell, in a series of monologues..
The first performance of Signatories was at Kilmainham Gaol in April 2016. One can only imagine how the piece, which is currently running at Dublin’s Olympia theatre, would have echoed through the cold, dark passageways of that particular building. The current set is simple and effective – little but candles and chairs for the actors to rest on while each monologue is performed – although the use of some modern rolling risers jarred with the timelessness of the other props.
Coming to the end of the centenary year, theatre-goers could be forgiven for feeling a little jaded of 1916 Rising stories, but this bringing together of some of our country’s most successful writers should be reason enough to see this new piece of theatre. Indeed, this is one 1916 commemorative piece that should stand the test of time, and be an enjoyable and moving experience many years from now.
UCD allocated each writer one character, and tasked them with the creation of a ten minute monologue for that person, giving them little or no insight into the approach the other seven writers were taking. The collective, directed by Patrick Mason who has a Tony award for the 1992 direction of Dancing at Lughnasa, is cohesive and interesting, and a fascinating insight into how these Irish writers we know and love approach the same writing task in unique ways.
The writers’ differing approaches are certainly part of the success of the piece. Opening with an engaging and recognizable typical Dublin character in the form of Emma Donoghue’s Elizabeth O’Farrell, the piece moves into distinctly more literary and poetic monologue in Thomas Kilroy’s Padraig Pearse and Frank McGuinness’s Eamonn Ceannt. Hugo Hamilton’s portrayal of James Connolly through the eyes of a young 1970s English girl was an interesting change of pace between these two, although it could be perhaps noted as the monologue that told us least of all about the character in question.
It was wonderful to have new writers represented by Rachel Fehily, whose speech for Thomas Clarke was touching and real, and delivered by Joe Taylor with incredible feeling, but one of the highlights of the evening was the monologue given by Min Ryan, fiancée of the doomed Sean MacDiarmada. The most humorous, most light-hearted chapter in the Signatories story, managed to also be, perhaps, the most harrowing monologue of them all. Eilis Ní Dhuibhne’s writing stood out as really capturing the essence of the idea that was the total work, and in her short ten minutes, had the audience of the Olympia theatre smiling, laughing and ultimately silenced.
If one of the aims of this project was to bring a modern audience face to face with the truth of the signatories, then penultimate piece, penned by Marina Carr, succeeded beyond compare. Stephen Jones’s horrifyingly believable portrayal of her young Thomas MacDonagh, a man incongruously cheerful in his utter shock at being sentenced to die, was one of the most moving pieces of the evening, and left me with a strong urge to revisit his grave at Glasnevin Cemetery and offer my contemporary thanks to this historical hero.
The evening concluded at the able hand of Joseph O’Connor, thankfully, the less-literary, more engaging side of Joseph O’Connor, who’s impassioned, tender and tragic Joseph Mary Plunkett was brought to life wonderfully by Shane O’Reilly; tonally, the perfect conclusion to the whole work.
Signatories was an engaging, interesting piece of theatre, which could feel at home in any Dublin space, and worked very well in the Olympia Theatre. The bringing together of some of our best Irish writers was a wonderful concept. This is a piece of work which, while fitting to Dublin 2016, should enjoy worldwide audiences for many years to come.
Cast of Writers and Performers
Elizabeth O’Farrell by Emma Donoghue, performed by Barbara Brennan.
Padraig Pearse by Thomas Kilroy, performed by Frank McCusker.
James Connolly by Hugo Hamilton, performed by Karen McCartney.
Éamonn Ceannt by Frank McGuinness, performed by Ronan Leahy.
Thomas Clarke by Rachel Fehily, performed by Joe Taylor.
Sean McDermott by Éilís Ní Dhuibhne, performed by Roseana Purcell.
Thomas MacDonagh by Marina Carr, performed by Stephen Jones.
Joseph Mary Plunkett by Joseph O’Connor, performed by Shane O’Reilly.
(c) Sheena Lambert
The troubled history and raw beauty of the Irish landscape were the inspiration behind Sheena Lambert’s novel The Lake. She grew up in County Dublin, where she worked as an environmental engineer before becoming a full-time writer. Her stories, novels and screenplays have been shortlisted in a number of prestigious international competitions.
About The Lake
A body is discovered in the receding waters of a manmade lake in the Irish midlands, and for Peggy Casey, 23-year-old landlady of The Angler’s Rest, nothing will ever be the same. Detective Sergeant Frank Ryan is dispatched from Dublin, and his arrival casts an uneasy spotlight on the damaged history of the valley, and on the difficult relationships that bind Peggy and her three older siblings. Over the course of the weekend, Detective Ryan’s investigation will not only uncover the terrible truth behind the dead woman’s fate, but will also expose the Casey family’s deepest secrets.
Secrets never meant to be revealed.