Star of the Sea – Review by Cormac Fitzgerald
Star of the Sea (Moonfish Theatre Company and an Taibhdhearc): Sept 24 – 26 – Draíocht, Blanchardstown
Star of the Sea tells the story of the voyage of a ship from Cobh, Co Cork, to New York City in 1847.
The ship leaves behind an Ireland ravaged by the potato famine, and on board are a host of characters looking for a new life. Among them is a ruined Lord and his family, a murderer and a maid who has suffered extreme hardships throughout her life. The story of their intersecting lives and how they came to be on the ship forms the backbone of the production, which is at once a powerful evocation of the horrors of the Irish Famine and a testament to the song and language of Irish culture that was lost in those years.
The play is freely adapted from the Joseph O’Connor novel of the same name and is staged by Moonfish Theatre. It is a bi-lingual affair, with both the Irish and English language featuring in equal measure. Clever staging and use of projectors ensures that those without any Irish will still grasp the plot, however a full appreciation of the work requires at least some grasp of Ireland’s national language. In this way it is a bold production, challenging the audience to face the Irish language in a way that they may not have done for a long time (or ever).
Five actors play multiple parts throughout the performance, while one (co-director Máiréad Ní Chróinín) stays cloaked in semi-darkness manning the special effects. They flit through their roles with ease, coming to life as both men and women, peasants and gentry without missing a beat.
However there are three characters central to the play and they are all brilliantly fleshed out and realised. Zita Monahan is fantastic as the cunning and ruthless Pius Mulvey, while Simon Boyle brings a level of relatable pathos to the fallen Lord Merridith. Ionia Ní Chróinín gives a beautiful performance as the broken but defiant maid, Mary Duane.
The set consists of three sails, a piano and a few wooden boxes. Two projectors are used to great effect throughout the performance, creating backgrounds and visual effects on the sails that enhance the experience.
The play is long (about two hours with an interval) and occasionally scenes can seem a bit dragged out. Back story is woven into the fabric of the narrative but sometimes it can seem like the production gets side-tracked in wanting to reveal too much of a character; however, this is only a small gripe in what is an overwhelmingly positive experience.
While the surface narrative itself is compelling and well realised (a story of betrayal and vengeance) what makes the play excellent is the story it tells of the famine and the great destruction that befell the Irish people as a result. Moonfish never forget their source material, and the ghosts of the dead are ever present throughout the piece. One character’s account of a harrowing walk through the dying countryside is a particularly powerful scene.
Music in Irish and English features throughout, adding a sense of ancestral nostalgia and beautiful melancholy to the story. The old ghosts of Irish nationalism are invoked from time to time to stir up sentiment, but are never abused – thar barr.
Dates: Sep 24-26
Photos by Marta Barcikowska