HISTORY at the P.A.C.
January 9, 2014
With HISTORY, that ran for five days at the Project Arts Centre late last month THEATREclub brought to an end their probing trilogy about the cyclical failings of Irish society (the previous shows were HEROIN and The Family). Like Rosemary McKenna’s SEEDS showcase, Way to Heaven, it appealed to the intellectual rather than the emotive side of one’s brain, resulting in an informative watch rather than the desired transformative one.
Using the 14 acre St Michael’s Estate in Inchicore as a mirror for the Republic, the piece charted the country from the dreams shared by our forefathers when they were interned on the site (then a British army barracks) after the 1916 Rising, to the despair and destitution of the former residents who saw four regeneration plans fall apart over 20+ years. (The last tower fell in 2013). Quoting from the proclamation Barry O Connor repeats the refrain, ‘Cherishing all the children of the nation equally’. As this show so pointedly puts it, many have been failed by a state that people gave their lives to create.
For what died the sons of Roisin?
Along the way there were sequences dedicated to the Golden Bridge Industrial Home and personifications of the countries repugnant worship of country, church and capitalism, via Kathleen Ni Houlihan, The Virgin Mary and a civil servant.
There was enough material in HISTORY for it to work as a standalone trilogy rather than the conclusive part of one. Some aspects of this production- like the aforementioned Golden Bridge sequence felt undercooked. It added nothing to the production, illustrated nothing new on the topic and more interesting areas of exploration-like a discussion about revolution and Republicanism, were cut short to facilitate it. Which was unfortunate as that showed a sympathy and balance missing from most journalistic twatter on the topic.
THEATREclub scent marked the production with the usual calling cards that typify their shows- breaking character, the retention of the performers own names, self aware discussion of stage craft, which never really serviced the story. A’Regeneration for Dummies’ style back and forth helped simplify the confusing political speech that the residents were flooded with. Personalising the seemingly Utopian and inhuman plans that were enacted, retracted and discarded, the strong performances of the actors playing the residents put flesh to the figures, the facts and the headlines.
But we didn’t have time to really feel the impact of what happened. We see the tragedy, the travesty and the audacity because we were told it, explicitly, the performers using a mix of naturalistic and metaphorical performance, coming in and out of the fourth wall to illustrate their point.
There was so much going on that while you were still interested in what happened you stopped caring. When they try to recreate a protest march at the end of the show audience members on the night I attended felt confused, awkward and harangued, perhaps proof that while they had taken on board what had been said to them they hadn’t made that vital human connection to what they saw.