Reviews DublinNational Published 26 February 2016

Review: Wild Sky at Bewley’s Cafe Theatre

Bewley's Cafe Theatre ⋄ 23rd February - 19th March 2016

Young love and companionship in the shadow of the Easter Rising.

Chris McCormack
Wild Sky at Bewley's Cafe Theatre. Photo: Patrick Redmond.

Wild Sky at Bewley’s Cafe Theatre. Photo: Patrick Redmond.

How are we to mark the centenary of the Easter Rising, a bloody insurrection that anteceded Ireland’s independence from Britain? Do we celebrate the rebels, their brazen ideas of nation-making and progressive attitudes to gender and equality? Are we weighed down by the devastation of Dublin, the creation of a Free State straitened by Catholic conservatisms, and new violence embittered by partition that would blaze for most of the twentieth century?

In the breadth of this watershed event in Irish history, playwright Deirdre Kinahan’s new play for Ten42 Productions and Meath County Council admirably finds a new angle: to lament the loss of young love and companionship.

Inspired by real events, Kinahan’s fictional play about childhood friends in County Meath takes the form of two counter-flowing monologues. Tom Farrell (Ian Toner), journeying back to his rural home after fighting in the Rising, contemplates the love of his life: Josie Dunne (Caitriona Ennis). Josie’s narrative is set during the build-up to the Rising, when new ideas of socialism and feminism are blowing in on winds from neighbouring Dublin.

Ennis passionately plays the part of a hopeful lover and revolutionary but, craftily, she uses her body to tell a different story. Suspecting the forces at play in the propagandist climate of the Gaelic Revival, a blissful pirouette during a step-dancing lesson later transforms into an aggressive move as if feeling the invisible pull of a more violent influence. Toner also shows glimpses of aggression embedded under a fragile personality, accumulating with a powerful projection of rebel’s names underscored by operatic strains from a musician (a steely-voiced Mary Murray, singing old ballads arranged by Susan McKeown).

Director Jo Mangan wisely stages the action along the length of the Powerscourt auditorium, making evocative use of Kevin Smith’s radiant side-lighting and ensuring greater proximity to the action. However, other decisions are difficult to fathom. Bodies drifting between abstract gestures and extremely literal blocking (physically chasing or obstructing each other when a character ‘can’t escape’ their circumstances) and bombastic emphasis on the script, makes you think that these overt devices mightn’t suit the sleight-of-hand of Kinahan’s script.

As a result, the play’s subtler gender critique doesn’t have as much of an impact as it should. In a scene depicting amateur dramatics, Josie fully invests in the anaemic role of Delia Cahill, the bride abandoned by a fiancé left to fight for Ireland in W.B. Yeats’s popular nationalist play Cathleen ní Houlihan. While Josie’s awakening to women’s unequal status is well covered, there is an underlying suggestion the opposite sex aren’t going to battle for love of country or woman. Rather, the battlefield seems to be a ruthless destination to legitimise masculinities.

All in all, bracing performances power through a hoary staging, conveying young lives swept up from ordinary circumstance and scattered in the wild sky of Ireland’s revolutionary past.

Wild Sky is on at Bewley’s Cafe Theatre until 19th March 2016. Click here for tickets.

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Chris McCormack is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

Review: Wild Sky at Bewley’s Cafe Theatre Show Info


Produced by Ten42 Productions and Meath County Council

Directed by Jo Mangan

Written by Deirdre Kinahan

Cast includes Caitriona Ennis, Ian Toner

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