Moore Street, now a busy Dublin thoroughfare filled with market stalls and multi-ethnic cuisine, provided the climactic scene of the 1916 Rising. Here, (exactly 100 years to the day) 250 rebels retreated from their barricade at the General Post Office and took shelter inside civilian houses under fire from English forces. The question preoccupying the Irish public this centenary year has been: how do we remember it?
Director Louise Lowe’s new site-specific production for ANU heeds the complexities of this legacy. But it’s hard to shy away from a performance where you’re asked to witness and acknowledge courage in the past (even if it sets you peering suspiciously through the window of a Polish supermarket).
Politely disrupting local businesses, Lowe’s promenade ushers us into backrooms of shops and restaurants where figures from 1916 are slyly summoned as contemporary activists and citizens. During a discreet war meeting, a young commandant (Craig Connelly, heartfelt and heart breaking) wins us over with his enthusiasm before silently falling apart at word of surrender.
For the sake of direction, we have our guides. A socialist (Louise Matthews) touches on political geography of the area, evidence of recent protest against the government’s proposed plans for a national monument, while an Englishman with Irish roots (John Cronin) maps out the physical geography of where the rebels are/were positioned.
Between both of them, the production is saved from straying into worship: in a hidden alley the duo goofily imitate 1916 leader James Connolly, plunging the figure into the distant past (Cronin gets by on this commemorative self-awareness when we unexpectedly stumble upon another re-enactment on the site, to which he brightly remarks “There’s Elizabeth O’Farrell with the surrender flag. Didn’t think that was happening yet.”).
Entering the historic buildings themselves is a much darker venture. Women’s bodies resurface in performers Niamh McCann and Úna Kavanagh’s gruesome dance, only to be surrounded by pointed sculptures made of chairs and domestic debris in visual artist Owen Boss’s design. It’s a grim awakening to the Republic’s views on gender for women who laid down their lives for their country.
Dramatically, the focus shifts, uncomfortably perhaps, to innocent bystanders: landing in on top of a terrified resident (dutiful Etta Fusi), helping a shrieking woman (deft Alexandra Conlon) to prop up her injured husband (lumber Thomas Reilly). Boss’s installation, invested with Ciaran Bagnall’s lighting and Carl Kennedy’s sound, powerfully recreates the atmosphere of a terrorist attack.
That provides a striking modern frame through which to view the Irish revolutionaries, and to experience the destruction of those final days. Imaginably, it also leads appropriately to the second instalment of ANU’s triptych commemorating 1916. On Corporation Street, responding to an IRA bombing in Manchester twenty years ago, will be presented at Manchester’s HOME in June.
What are we to make of the state of things as we re-emerge? Looking to a badge pinned to our chest, issued somewhere along the way as a symbol of recruitment, we might think there’s still work to do.
Sunder is on until 7th May 2016. Click here for more information.