April 24, 2010
No Escape is, for all intents and purposes, a staging of The Ryan Report, compiled by Mary Raftery and skilfully brought to life by director Roisin McBrinn. It is a serious, sombre presentation of the facts, one hour and thirty minutes long that gives the audience no opportunity to avoid or pass over the horrors inflicted on the states neediest subjects. Together in a darkened room we listen, absorb and emote free of the commercial breaks, mediated viewpoints and constant distractions that dogged previous documentations.
It is terrific theatre finely acted by the performers who let the truth ring out in their restrained characterisations. The catalogue of crimes committed against the young is something we have long been inundated with but here we are stewed in the vile, despicable acts, the cold-hearted ignorance and the utter lack of compassion dispensed by these so-called men of god and their statutory enablers.
Clattered and battered, belittled and ridiculed the children who passed through these industrial schools grew up bruised and broken. Many were unable to express love to their own children, were haunted by the actions they needed to take against younger, weaker children to survive.Many of them turned to drink and drugs while many more took their own lives.
All of this we know but to sit there and hear it voiced in the first person, the uncensored emotions of those who suffered and the cool indifference of the religious orders who were supposed to protect them, was theatre at its best-truthful, insightful, reflective.
Lorcan Cranitch acts as the narrator, hitting us with facts and figures of the report weaving them around the staged reenactments from the tribunals and the monolouged testimonies of the abused. It is devastating stuff -children beaten till they bled, beaten till they soiled themselves, beaten so badly that they could not walk for three months. The ritual humiliations, the underwear inspections, the highlighting of bodily functions and the degradation of their backgrounds. They were made to feel worthless and helpless, all alone but one of many.
Stories of rape and torture are quickly forgotten when the headlines move onto the latest celebrity spousal mastectomy but when listening to an actor recount, with little emotion, how a priest kicked him and beat him while masturbating and wearing nothing but hobnailed boots or to hear others recount the cool removal of the collars and cloaks before the infliction of beatings, their sense of hopelessness, their horrifying reality is recoiled in an audience who themselves have no escape from the truth.
The clergy are often referred to as monsters or animals. They weren’t. For all there miserable failings they were human beings who, like those they let down, have motives, desires, wants and needs. Here some attempt is made at shedding light on them.
In one devastating moment of honesty a priest admits to forcing a child to eat his own shit. He’d trained to teach but was forced to act as mother, father and nurse for boys who repeatedly soiled themselves. He was stressed, overworked, frustrated and received no support from his superiors. It’s not an excuse but it is at least an attempt to explain one of the thousands of instances that happened.
Here is an area ripe for theatrical exploration. Thomas Kilroy’s hopelessly inept Christ Deliver Us! showed us what we already knew. It asked the same old questions and provided no new insights at all. We need to discover the reasons for the abuse not the means in which it was conducted. If we stop looking at the clergy like something separate to ourselves we might come closer in understanding what went on. In attempting to do so this production has taken the first step to making our theatre relevent again.