Signatories – Kilmainham Gaol – Review by Frank L.
Directed by Patrick Mason
22 to 24 April Kilmainham
26/27 April Pavilion Dun Laoghaire
3/4 May Civic Tallaght
5 May National Concert Hall
UCD as part of the Decade of Centenaries commissioned Emma Donoghue, Thomas Kilroy, Hugo Hamilton, Frank McGuinness, Rachel Feehily, Eilis ni Dhuibhne, Marina Carr and Joseph O’Connor each to create a monologue piece focusing on one of the signatories to the proclamation plus nurse Elizabeth O’Farrell, the woman whose boot appears in the photographs of the surrender. These eight pieces have been combined into one play, under the direction of Patrick Mason. Barbara Brennan, Peter Gaynor, Lisa Dwyer Hogg, Ronan Leahy, Joe Taylor, Roseanna Purcell, Stephen Jones and Shane O’Reilly interpret respectively each monologue. The site for the first three performances is the massive Victorian East Wing of Kilmainham gaol before visiting theatres around Dublin.
The East Wing is a unique space. It exudes a sense that it is a place where liberty is not permitted as exemplified by its iron walkways and staircases. Its ceiling is, partially along its length, glass so that it has a massive “skylight” which makes the space bright. However the performance began at 8.30pm so gradually the light fades and darkness and shadows enter the space. The audience stand on the flagged stone floor and follow the actors as they appear around the space on a collection of small stages.
Each piece is approximately ten minutes or so in length. The first piece was Elizabeth O’Farrell. The ending of one piece and the beginning of the next is seamless, with a fine sound system announcing the name of the next signatory. There are accompanying musical pieces and sounds. The first and last performances take place at the far end of the space the remainder from two different locations nearer the entrance. The audience makes its own shadows in the eerie space.
The eight individuals who are portrayed had diverse interests and backgrounds but had a common purpose in the pursuit of an Ireland independent and free of rule from Britain. So there is a vast diversity in the themes which the eight writers have chosen to tell. However the unity of purpose was maintained by the consequences for each of the Rising notwithstanding the immediacy of the subsequent executions. Kilmainham Gaol was a superlative setting as it was in its Breaker’s yard those executions took place.
Standing for an hour and a half is a tall order for any audience particularly in a space which is not particularly warm. Mason and his actors overcame this challenge and with the potency of the gaol’s architecture and history created a memorable and unique theatrical experience.
Directed by Patrick Mason
Costume Design by Catherine Fay
Writers – Emma O’Donoghue, Thomas Kilroy, Hugo Hamilton, Frank McGuinness, Rachel Fehily, Éilís Ní Dhuibne, Marina Carr and Joseph O’Connor
Performed by Barbara Brennan, Roseanna Purcell, Stephen Jones, Shane O’Reilly, Joe Taylor, Ronan Leahy, Peter Gaynor & Lisa Dwyer Hogg