Sheehy Skeffington – New Theatre – Review
29th October – 2nd November
Presented by Irish Repertory Theatre Company UK
This production gives us an insight into the life of Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington. She was born as Johanna Mary “Hanna” Sheehy in 1877. We meet her as a young woman going to college. There she gets involved with the Irish suffragette movement and meets her husband, Francis Skeffington. He is an unusual man for his time, heavily involved with the suffragette movement and a pacifist. What follows is a whistle stop tour through their lives at a fascinating time in Irish history. We see their involvement in the suffragette movement, the Lockout, the 1916 Rising and beyond.
This is a one-woman play with Ailis Duff taking on the role of Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington. There is minimal set, with only a collection of wooden crates on the stage. She moves these crates into different formations to give us the impression of courtrooms, jail cells and a variety of other locations required. As you would expect, with so many changes of time and location, there is a degree of exposition required, as Ailis talks directly to the audience, giving us details of the setting and what is taking place. It may have worked better if the play focused on a shorter period of time in her life, but with such a fascinating life it is difficult to know what to leave out. Ailis Duff also plays a number of different characters, to expand the world of the play.
The production also has an audio-visual element, with photographs from the time projected onto a screen on the back wall. They also play sound recordings of individuals from the time, which give a view of the role of women in society during the period.
While many may know the name of Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington, few will be familiar with the details of her life. This play allows the audience to follow this courageous and remarkable woman during some pivotal years in Irish history. Ailis Duff is impressive in the part and shows the required spirit and vigour for the role.
Writer/Director: Rosalind Scanlon
Actress: Ailis Duff
Assistant Director: JulieAnne Murphy
Lights and Sound: Sam De Santi
Photographs/Slides: Franco Chen
Graphics: Dee Chen