Pals – the Irish at Gallipoli created by Anu Productions – Review by Frank L.
The very title of Anu Productions’ latest offering manifests what are unusual couplings – Gallipoli when referred to at all in Ireland is usually on the basis that Australian soldiers were slaughtered there in large numbers. It is associated with a military catastrophe so severe that it is almost impolite to enquire what exactly had happened. Irish involvement? How come? And “Pals”- not a word all that commonly used today- has a slightly quaint connotation to it. How were “pals”, Irish pals to boot embroiled in the military cock- up that was Gallipoli?
Anu Productions under their inspirational artistic director Louise Lowe have chosen “The National Museum of Ireland – Decorative Arts and History, Collins Barracks” to be the site where they present the stories of a small group of soldiers “on a human level with empathy, sophistication and artistic rigor”. It is an inspired choice because built as it was in 1706 and known then as “the Barracks, its name changed subsequently to “the Royal Barracks” and finally in 1922 to “Collins Barracks”, it played a prominent role in the military life of Ireland for almost three hundred years. Its central parade ground, surrounded by the four imposing, five storey buildings with their unyielding facades, make an ideal location for the action. At the beginning as if you were on yet another guided tour you are told as a group about the Barracks, about the 7th Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and in particular ”D” Company which was “a ‘pals’ formation of men who had played rugby football together. As a result they were quickly nicknamed ‘the Toffs in the Toughs. They trained … at the Royal Barracks, from February to April 1915 before the 220 soldiers sailed from Dublin – within a week of arriving at Gallipoli , 131 were dead or wounded.”
In fact, the Toffs of “D” Company, billeted as they were in the Royal Barracks, would have paraded up, down, round and about the parade ground to the accompanying bark of sergeant majors and officers. It is where the action begins with an introduction explaining the site and the circumstances surrounding the coming into existence of “D” Company but proceedings are interrupted by a woman, Laura Murray, who has complaints to make against the military. She is but a decoy and soon you are in the company of four members of “D” company in their billet, sitting on their beds strewn with their kit, on the fifth floor of one of those austere buildings. The four (John Cronin, Liam Heslin, Shane Thomas Whisker, Thomas Reilly) oscillate between the civilian young men they had been but a few months before and the soldiers that they now are required to be. The austerity of the few artefacts of the billet add texture to the civilian/military juxtaposition of their new lives. At times these young men move as one, as they should as a trained military unit, but each remains also an individual where his inner most fears come into play. Disturbingly Laura Murray at one stage enters the billet like the angel of death; at other times she plays the familiar Florence Nightingale role of nurse. It is at times grotesque, at times innocent but above all it is heart breakingly sad.
Louise Lowe has brought into clear vision a small part of the First World War which has to a certain extent remained hidden or largely forgotten. Her choice of location and her marshalling of her actors are exemplary. In this decade of commemorations, it is to be hoped that she has set a standard that those commemorative events which are to follow will strive to equal or surpass. In this regard it is worthy of note she has collaborated with the National Museum of Ireland, the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, the National Archives of Ireland and ICTU. She has done Ireland a service and is, with her team, to be congratulated.
National Museum of Ireland – Decorative Arts and History, Collins Barracks
Tuesday 3 February – Thursday 30 April
Performances Times: Wednesday – Saturday: 11.00am, 12.00pm, 2.00pm, 3.00pm and 4.00pm
Sunday – 2.00pm, 3.00pm and 4.00pm
For More Information and Tickets:
Bairbre Ni hAodha
Sarah Jane Sheils