Reviews DublinReviews Published 14 October 2016

Review: It’s Not Over at the Samuel Beckett Theatre, Dublin

Samuel Beckett Theatre ⋄ 12th - 16th October 2016

Each unbearable blast: Chris McCormack reviews THEATREclub’s marathon production weaving together Sean O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars and Irish politics.

Chris McCormack
It's Not Over at the Samuel Beckett Theatre. Photo: Babs Daly / Sarah Fox.

It’s Not Over at the Samuel Beckett Theatre. Photo: Babs Daly / Sarah Fox.

What makes a theatre audience riot? Misidentifying the heroes of a rising, like in Sean O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars, is a proven way to cause outrage. Alternately, a production dogged by technical difficulties and company conflicts also rouses anger. Both methods appeal to directors Grace Dyas and Barry O’Connor in their tremendously ambitious project for THEATREclub, devised in collaboration with former IRA volunteers. The cast walk out one-by-one to apologise for the play’s delay, and the production, much like the painful past it will portray, is left on hold.

“I refuse to commemorate 1916,” they announce, receiving applause from the rest of the company. Here, the Rising that took place one hundred years ago is unfinished business as long as republican communities decimated by the Troubles in Northern Ireland are still waiting for justice. The loyalist side of the story, suspiciously, is left silent.

Nonetheless, this is restless history, summoned over four and a half hours through crashing tableaux. On one side of the auditorium, you’ll see Pat McGrath and Neili Conroy begin a scene as Fluther and Mrs. Grogan in a fit-up production of The Plough and the Stars. Opposite them, figures approach a microphone to commemorate tragedies over the past fifty years such as Bloody Sunday and the murder of Sammy Devenny. Audience members line up for a drink at a bar, and on a stage next to it musicians play Irish songs from Teenage Kicks to Molly Malone. It’s all a compelling and furious prism through which to shine light on the past.

O’Casey’s characters start to blur into the Troubles era, suggesting 1916 remains unresolved. Nora Clitheroe (Rebecca Guinnane) and her husband Jack (Stefan Dunbar) once again find themselves surrounded by political divisions, and Doireann Coady’s Bessie Burgess, throwing herself desperately onto a coffin, calls out for her son. Most stirring is Dyas herself, playing the prostitute Rosie Redmond in horrific scenes of sexual violence.

Those unacquainted with O’Casey’s play won’t pick up on the details – there’s too much chaos – but they’ll still absorb the intensity of an event where fears from decades’ past are summoned through unsettling effects. Death literally looms in dancer Ruairi O’Donovan’s surreal shape holding a dead fawn, whilst other imagery is immediately familiar: the alarming arrival of a suspicious car and live blasts by pyrotechnics designer Se Purcell both set the audience shaking.

Would you believe that the production doesn’t hold up? Over the lengthy duration, its colliding tableaux start to settle into single and laboured scenes drilling performers into armed volunteers or rioting communities. On repeated viewings, these come off more like the inexhaustible exercises of an actors’ improv class. Without theatrical cadences to bring it towards a close, this piece of marathon theatre risks losing its teeth.

But THEATREclub, in their activist practice, aren’t likely to provide closure as long as the social issue is ongoing. Their selective picture of the past will be a hard sell. Yet despite this, watching it makes you grieve the trauma it depicts with each of its unbearable blasts, resounding like gunshots still rattling through history.

It’s Not Over is on until 16th October 2016 at the Samuel Beckett Theatre. Click here for more details. 

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Chris McCormack is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

Review: It’s Not Over at the Samuel Beckett Theatre, Dublin Show Info


Produced by THEATREclub

Directed by Grace Dyas and Barry O'Connor

Written by Grace Dyas and Barry O'Connor

Cast includes Grace Dyas, Pat McGrath, Neili Conroy, Rebecca Guinnane, Stefan Dunbar, Ruairi O'Donovan

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