Maum: A miscarriage of tension | GIAF review
An historical grievance about a murder trial is at the heart of Maum, but this is less a play than a pageant
Venue: An Taidhbhearc
Date Reviewed: July 14th, 2015
“Only the evidence matters,” says Henry Munroe (Eoin Geoghegan) early in Síghle Ní Chonaill’s bilingual dramatisation of the 1882 trial of the Maumtrasna Murders. Munroe, a Galway-born barrister now steeped in the imperial prejudice of the Dublin courts, and nicely played by Geoghegan, is the character who comes closest to an idealistic young lawyer in what is, ostensibly, a courtroom drama. And even he has few enough ideals.
The evidence mattered very little in the real history of the multiple murder, in which a family of five were slaughtered in the Gaeltacht region between Galway and Mayo. In a cynical miscarriage of justice, three men were hanged and five sentenced to life imprisonment in a case that came down to word against word in more ways than one.
Two of the 10 accused men gave evidence against the others, but Ní Chonaill’s contention is that it was also a case of language against language. The Irish speakers were tried in an anglophone Dublin court. Laden with miscommunication and poor translation, Irish could not mount a strong enough defence against English. “English is the language of civilisation,” remarks one character. “Irish is that of the savage.”
This new production from An Taibhdhearc, directed by Diarmuid de Faoite, doesn’t dabble in ambiguities. The facts of the case and the motivations behind it are spelled out in black and white, English and Irish. Against the backdrop of attacks on landlords and an earlier assassination of the two highest-ranking civil servants in Phoenix Park, there is plenty of justification to suggest the government required a show trial, but Ní Chonaill prefers the Dublin barristers to bluntly announce it. “This will be a show trial,” both prosecution and defence agree. So it is with the play, a miscarriage of tension.
With a cast of 19 performers, De Faoite is afforded a broad canvas to accommodate broader depictions, filling Dara McGee’s set – a multi-purpose rock formation – with extras and crowd scenes. Ní Chonaill writes with the brisk formula of a screenwriter. In one scene, the feuding Joyces show exaggerated courtesy for Munroe’s ailing father, a sympathetic Gaeilgeoir. The disinterested Munroe later bonds with a morally upright son, Tom Pháidín Sheáin (nicely played by Colm Ó Fátharta) and rediscovers his connection to indigenous Irish culture. Meanwhile, David Heap, Cillian Ó Gairbhí and Rod Godall contribute to a gallery of supercilious and sinister Dublin lawyers, cynically frustrating the truth. A messy history is parsed too neatly into a courtroom showdown between villains and victims. Objection! Leading the witness.
It becomes less a play than a pageant, a historical grievance stated at earnest length, but about which there is nothing much to say. Case closed.
Until July 18th