January 19, 2016
Three different women, under the influence of three different men, get caught up in the action of Easter Week 1916 in Colin Teevan’s nice looking, slow moving, typically tarted-up costume drama. The tent pole in the national broadcasters coverage of the centenary, there are moustachioed Brits, comic colloquialisms, unwanted pregnancies and adulterous actions, as the signatories of the proclamation drop on by in ‘would you look who it is’ cameos, in a drama that keeps its focus on ‘the real people’ of Dublin, made up, here, for the purposes of our entertainment.
There’s Love/Hate’s Charlie Murphy as Elizabeth, a rich medical student intended for one man (a British soldier played by Paul Reid) but whose enamoured with the political ideals of another (Love/Hate’s Brian Gleeson).
He plays Jimmy of the Irish Citizens Army, whose own brother Arthur, (Barry Ward) has gone to fight for King and Country, bringing with it the predictable homestead conflict that sub-headed the Irish fight for freedom (turning brother against brother).
Love/Hate’s Ruth Bradley plays Frances O’Flaherty, a bicycle cycling member of Cuman Na mBan who teaches bomb making to young boys at St Endas with Pádraig Pearse (Marcus Lamb). She gives us the ironically subtitled cupla focal which begs the question “for what died the sons of Roisin’.
And then there’s Tony Award nominee Sarah Greene, as May, a secretary having an affair with a married British Civil Servant. She- in a fit of implausible and historically-inaccurate pique, steals the tinder that provides the revolutionary flame, in the shape of some documents that reveal the British intention to round up members of the nationalist movement.
The cinematography (Tim Fleming) and production design (Derek Wallace) are excellent, while the hair (Lorraine Glynn), make up (Sharon Doyle) and costume design (Allison Byrne) make ‘the three graces’ of the Dublin stage look like international stars.
But the script is extremely lacking. Its non-stop plot propulsion, with historical motivations cut and paste into characters mouths instead of plausible dialogue. Subtlety is absent as stereotype seeps from every scripted pore and the players impart information, but not emotion, beyond the long close ups on sad or displeased faces.
Political affiliations are bellowed, but why these positions are held seems immaterial. Equally unimportant to Teevan is the relationship between our three leads. (They were once in the Mikado together). There’s no moment that we get a feeling as to what kind of people they are, just what type of role their stock character plugs in the narrative.
And for a plot that trumpets its Bechdel test credentials, only Bradley’s Frances suggests motivation that is personal and not a response to trite romantic notions.
Bradley’s also, easily, the stand out. There’s steel to her performance, determination but also a flicker of fear that makes her flesh, bone and soul not just a hodgepodge of reflected or projected politics. Gleeson and Ward are strong also, but the less said about Countess Markievicz (Camille O’Sullivan) the better.
In a year where feminists were supposedly awakened by the continued gender bias of our theatre programmers, I hope to god they’re not placated by our national broadcasters top-trumping of Mna na hEireann and their role in the rising. Inclusion is important, but in this one episode we have seen of Rebellion, the women are still primarily wives’, daughters, lovers or followers of men, lacking their own impulse, their own thoughts and-honestly, any personality.