The Rapparees – Smock Alley Theatre – Review by David Minogue
Until Sept 2nd
The Little Shadow Theatre Company was founded in 2015 and following a co-production with Unravel Productions of Eugene O’Brien’s play Eden in July of this year, they return to Smock Alley to stage The Rapparees, an original drama by Seamus Lucason at the Boys School.
The Rapparees is set at the time of the Protestant Ascendancy, during the reign of King William of Orange, which was one of the most violent periods in Irish history. It was a time when to be a Catholic priest was a crime punishable by death. The play focuses on five Irishmen who collectively become a group of protectors of a young clergyman (Adam Tyrell) who is being pursued by Dragoon Sergeant Edward Tynan (Gary Buckley) and his men.
Traditional Irish music plays prior to the commencement of the play. The set is simple, with a table with tankards of drink, a few chairs, logs on the floor and a single rug on the wall.
In the opening scenes of the play four men; Michael (Peter Prior), Sean (Liam Griffin), Thomas (Eoin O’Sullivan) and Kevin (Des Early) recount tales of people they know or have heard about, each of which is delivered with a punchline. The mood set in these early scenes is one of boisterous talk heard in a public house. It is reminiscent of Seanchaidhthe or storytellers. The Rapparees is very much a historical drama and the lighter note it begins on serves to show the camaraderie and bond between the group of friends. Religion is a reoccurring theme in these stories and this topic forms the core of this play’s narrative arc.
The stories then become darker in tone to the reality of the times they live in with the arrival of Tadgh (Chris Hayes), who tells of people, including priests, being hunted and killed by the Royal Forces in the Kerry region. Soon after a man who is only known by name as a priest arrives seeking refuge. The play’s early scenes set in place the direction the narrative is clearly going in.
The arrival of Dragoon Sergeant Edward Tynan later adds a genuine tense quality which is vital to the story. Gary Buckley’s performance is the very effective, with his character’s ruthless determined air. His costume is also the most authentic but less effective are the actions believed to be happening off stage. This is always tricky in a small production but in this story it is an important part of the plot.
While women and children are mentioned in the stories the men recount, The Rapparees is very much a play about men and the consequences of violence. The tone shifts as it progresses and it becomes much darker. The second act of the play has more substance and is more controlled than the first half. It is a short play that includes an interval but it is a play that could actually be longer especially as it introduces two of its most interesting characters in later stages.
The Little Shadow Theatre Company have built up quite a body of work already, which includes some short films, and with their determination to focus on new writing, it will be interesting to see what they do next.
Writer: Seamus Lucason
Director: James M.O’Connor
Stage manager: Síofra Nic Liam
Lighting Designer / Set Builder: Éinne Ó Connachtáin
Cast: Dragoon Sergeant Edward Tynan: Gary Buckley
Priest: Adam Tyrrell
Kevin: Des Early
Sean: Liam Griffin
Tadgh: Chris Hayes
Thomas: Eoin O’Sullivan
Michael: Peter Prior