Star of the Sea is based on Joseph O’Connor’s book of the same name, and tells the story of a famine ship crossing the Atlantic ocean in 1847 from Cobh to New York. The passengers on the ship come from all walks of life, one is a former landlord, who has lost his wealth due to the famine and is travelling to America to find work. There are the inhabitants of steerage class, many of whom died on the long trip. The characters are varied and all have their stories to tell of how they ended up on the ship.
This play is performed in both Irish and English, as appropriate. It is a truly bilingual play, and changes quickly between the two languages. Those that lived in Galway in the 1840’s would have been predominately Irish speakers. When the native Irish converse with each other, it would naturally be through Irish. There are other scenes set in London or with the Landlords which are in English. The story changes between languages, with the use of projections of text to give non Irish speakers an abbreviated version of events.
At the start of the play, two sails were pulled on the stage as the ship sets off. These sails were used as screens for the projections of text, silhouettes and other images that allowed the company to create a variety settings and help the audience through this complicated story. The edge of the stage was exposed which allowed the audience to see how these images were created and it was often fascinating to watch. There was also a wide assortment of musical instruments, with a fiddle, piano and tin whistles used among others. There are many musical moments in the play and many skilled musicians among the cast.
What was clearly evident in this piece is how much work went into this production. The complex nature of Joesph O’Connor’s book make the conversion to the stage an interesting one, but the variety of techniques that Moonfish employed make it possible. The story jumps from scenes set on the ship to moments in each of the character’s past. It was often a scramble to keep up with these moves, and it did keep you on your toes.
The use of the bilingual script was interesting, but the production did give enough text for those without Irish to be able to follow the events, even if they missed some of the subtleties. This was an inventive and interesting production that put a human face on the suffering that took place during the Irish famine.
Star of the Sea – Bunaithe ar an úrscéal le Joseph O’Connor
Devised by Moonfish Theatre