There’s something dubious about putting ancient Ireland onstage. That realm of virtuous peasants, famously plunged by W.B. Yeats and others, inspired theatre that also played out as nationalist propaganda. Writer-composer Fionn Foley finds timely new use of this odd inspiration, however, in his new irreverent musical Fierce Notions.
Set in a merchant town, the characters are having a difficult time dealing with the rule of new leader. Austericus (Aisling O’Mara’) has imposed difficult economic measures. Republycus (Juliette Crosbie) – who, in accordance with being a Celtic-dressed woman in an Irish play, must be a personification of Ireland – is distraught. “Stripped of my glory / I’m one pissed-off allegory,” she sings.
The plot follows two slaves – the nicely irascible duo of Milo (Foley) and Ragnall (Kevin C. Olohan) – in their search for a revolt. Orchestrating a political campaign to overthrow Austericus, their strategy sounds fantastically familiar. Stephen O’Leary’s meek salesman is an unlikely candidate, but advised as he is to smear his opponent and appeal to an emotional following (“Parody is a priority / The secret majority”), he’s the inevitable winner. His slogan? “Make Hibernia Great Again”.
Throughout this post-truth satire, the audiences are buoyed up by Foley’s impressively expansive music, a genre-hopping conspiracy of feel-good synths and cutting raps. Sarah Bradley’s direction tirelessly marshals the ensemble into dynamic arrangements, aided by Ellen Kirk and Sorcha Ní Fhloinn’s flexible stage design. It’s such a rush, you’ll likely miss the script’s more clunky gags.
As Olohan’s Ragnall tenses up into a saddened man, persecuted for his multicultural identity, this fun musical offers something depressingly real. Foley is well aware of the potential of ancient Ireland as a tool for nationalism, and that patriotic feeling in this time of globalism can be destructive. At the same time, this thoughtful production accepts that nation-making, frustrating as it might be, is a process.
Fierce Notions is on until 17 September 2017 at Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin. Click here for more details.