Disclaimer: History is complicated. This play is not a history lesson.
In Co. Kerry, in the late 18th century, the Penal Laws are in full force. This production deals with the repercussions of these laws on a group of friends. Technically, the play is engaging, nestled in the intimate space of The Boys’ School at Smock Alley. The cast is equally tight-knit, seven actors bringing a community to life through stories and anecdotes. This is the first act, and, although the seanchai flow of these stories is charming, it lacks the draw required to integrate the audience into its world. This is a production which is perhaps uncertain of itself. The Irish language is interspersed throughout the stories which are told but it is never allowed to settle. Curses are as Gaeilge, yet followed quickly (and perhaps, unnecessarily) by a clumsy English translation. It feels, at times, to be an Irish play that was not intended for an Irish audience. Tales of priest-hunting and a bitter hatred of the English make for something that is perhaps too ‘Stage Irish’ for comfort.
It would be a comfort to say that the second act redeems this shaky start. Staid storytelling made way for action that was charged by the twin furies of youthful, testosterone fuelled rage, and divine, religious conviction. Yet, despite this, it seems impossible to escape the foundation of hyperbole upon which the entire production balances, something which is only reinforced when the inevitable violence ensues.
At the close of this production, it’s hard not to be left with a certain dissatisfaction. Perhaps this stems from the moralisation, somewhat hastily tacked onto the end of the play. There may have been catharsis in pure tragedy. Alas, in this case, it is impossible to know.
Síofra Ní Shluaghadháin
The Rapparees is by The Little Shadow Theatre Company, showing at the Boys School Smock Alley Theatre from August 28-September 2nd.
It stars Gary Buckley, Des Early, Liam Griffin, Chris Hayes, Eoin O’Sullivan, Peter Prior & Adam Tyrrell. Written by Seamus Lucason. Directed by James M.O’Connor)