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Monday 10 December 2018

Rousing production flies Oyster Lane's flag high

On stage in the Oyster Lane Theatre Group production of Michael Collins in the Dun Mhuire Theatre: Yvette Walsh, Gearóid McCauley, James Dobbs, Neal O’Leary and Niamh Bolger
On stage in the Oyster Lane Theatre Group production of Michael Collins in the Dun Mhuire Theatre: Yvette Walsh, Gearóid McCauley, James Dobbs, Neal O’Leary and Niamh Bolger

Anna Hayes

Packed houses and standing ovations greeted the talented group from Oyster Lane Theatre Group, who staged a sterling musical recreation of the life of Michael Collins.

It is a story that most of us are very familiar with, particularly if you did Leaving Cert history prior to 2006, but mainly because RTE shows the Neil Jordan movie as often as it possibly can! Opening with the announcing of the 1916 Rising, the audience is brought through Collins' life from Frongoch to Beal na Blath, with drama and romance in between.

A relatively new musical, it first premièred in 2009 to great acclaim. Indeed, scoring the rights for it this year was something of a coup for the group who had initially planned to stage 'Guys and Dolls'.

There is much to admire in Bryan Flynn's musical. The ensemble numbers are rousing and suitably anthem like. 'Fly The Flag' and 'Every Heart Awaken' stir the blood, perhaps in a slightly jingoistic way, but mostly because this is history that is so recent, the centenaries of which we are living through now.

The front line cast members are all excellent. Chris Currid is suitably commanding in the title role and there is a richness to his voice that carries his numbers, be they rousing declarations of patriotism or love, or torn laments for the devastation that came as a result of war.

His death scene at the end of the show is a remarkably poignant piece of theatre, the slow-motion portrayal dramatically impactful and moving.

Denise Brennan cuts a charming figure as Kitty Kiernan, the woman torn between two men, and her duets with Currid are particularly striking.

James McDermott as Harry Boland simmers as the man scorned, the friend turned enemy - the very essence of the Civil War. Sean Hendley's physical stature makes him perfect for the De Valera role. While his interaction is limited in the first act, his clashes with Collins in the second act are fiery, in particular his 'rivers of Irish blood' speech. Finally, James Dobbs excels as Collins' right-hand man Joe Emmet, scattering in and out of the scenes like a Jack Russell chasing a rat. He portrays genuine affection and admiration for his leader and his anguish at the end is gut-wrenching.

A nice touch is the interwoven scenes from WB Yeats' and Lady Gregory's 'Cathleen ni Houlihan', given that Yeats' poem 'Easter, 1916' was one of the works that most vividly captured the legacy of the Rising. Performed by Yvette Walsh, Neal O'Leary, Niamh Bolger and Gearoid McCauley, with Louise Dillon as Mother Ireland, it juxtaposes nicely into the events of Collins' life.

With a musical like this, and a story that people know so well, it has to be a challenge as to what events are assigned more significance than others, while working within the confines of a reasonable running time.

The Leaving Cert history student in me was finicky about certain things like contextualising the timing of the Rising in comparison to WWI but that's pure nitpicking on my part.

That said, for a musical keen to highlight the drama of our turbulent history, it left out what was probably the most dramatic moment of that period - the shooting of the seven signatories of the Proclamation.

The execution of the 1916 leaders was as pivotal as the event itself, particularly the killing of James Connolly because of the inhumanity of how it was carried out. That was the bullet that turned the public opinion, that changed the course of Irish history, and created an atmosphere in which Collins was able to stamp influence.

And, done well, it could have been a strikingly powerful and evocative way of immersing the audience in the sentiment of the time.

Having said that, it's an issue with the source material rather than the overall production which could not be faulted.

Wexford People

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