October 16h, 1908
FROM THE ARCHIVES:One of the leaders of the 1916 Rising, Thomas MacDonagh, was a mainstream nationalist eight years earlier when his play looking forward to what Ireland would be like in the mid-20th century was first produced at the Abbey Theatre, which, according to this anonymous reviewer, failed to do it justice. –
IT IS seldom one has to complain of the acting at the Abbey Theatre, but it must be admitted that last night, when Mr. Thomas MacDonagh’s three-act tragedy, “When the Dawn is Come”, was produced for the first time, the work of the actors was not in keeping with their reputation.
In many instances, they forgot their words, and had to wait until the prompter came to their aid, while not infrequently whole passages from the dialogue seem to have been omitted. The play, it should be mentioned, is rather a difficult one for the players, and it is not surprising that its first production should prove somewhat disappointing. The author, whose merit as a poet has already been recognised, but who has yet to win his spurs as a playwright, gives us a peep into the state of Ireland fifty years hence, when “The Council of Ireland” commands the destinies of the country. The Council of Ireland sounds very much like Mr. Birrell’s [Chief Secretary for Ireland] recent ill-fated proposal, but it is nothing of the kind. It is in truth a cabal of the seven captains of the Irish insurgent army, one of whom is a priest, together with two lady members.
Why the latter are included in such a military enclave one fails to see, unless it be that the author wishes to impart an element of romance into his tragedy.
It is hard to realise that the action of the story takes place in the middle of the twentieth century, for it smacks of the stirring times of ’98, and the captains, in their red tunics and knee breeches, look anything but modern patriots. The author, however, may prove to be possessed of a more prophetic soul than seems apparent, and the time may again come when Irishmen will take to the hillsides to defend their cause.
The motive of the play, though rather vague, seems to be that an Irish leader cannot at any time trust his colleagues. He is beset with suspicion and treachery, and is regarded as being in league with the enemy. Thurlough [sic] MacKieran (Mr. J. M. Kerrigan), the Irish General, hatches a daring plot to defeat the opposing army.
He keeps his plans to himself rather than trust his captains, and by a bold stroke proves successful, but even in the hour of victory he finds accusers amongst his own henchmen, and dies a tragic death. It is not easy to grasp the meaning of the play at first, but the third act lets in the light, though rather dimly.
The play depends solely on the dialogue, which throughout is clever, and at times brilliant, while some of the speeches of the captains are often eloquent. With a little more experience of the intricacies of the piece the artistes should make the play the success that one feels it should be.