The Risen People

In a year of 1913 memorials, can a play this derivative, or a production this earnest, be taken seriously?

The Risen People: a huge degree of talent put to the service of a bad idea. Photograph: Ros Kavanagh

The Risen People: a huge degree of talent put to the service of a bad idea. Photograph: Ros Kavanagh

Thu, Dec 5, 2013, 15:30

The Risen People
Abbey Theatre, Dublin

Memorials, to paraphrase Allen Ginsberg, are for old bums to sit on. The idea of commemorating the 1913 Lockout on stage holds a similar tension. By rehearsing the near-revolution of that tumultuous year in a hideously inequitable nation, do you hope to rouse people or just put bums on seats?

Jimmy Fay’s production for the Abbey recognises that dilemma early when, in lieu of action, a character blurts out: “I have tickets for the Abbey.” The line gets a laugh, but it feels much sadder: what happened to theatre that used to challenge, agitate and send its audience out in a fury?

Both Fay and the play’s original writer, James Plunkett, are fretfully aware of such inheritance. Plunkett is slavishly indebted to Sean O’Casey: his 1958 play apes The Plough and the Stars but loses its passion, criticism and irony. Aware of the problem, Jim Sheridan’s 1977 Brechtian adaptation spilled the play’s action into the city and introduced a street singer.

Fay’s version is modelled on both, a commendable idea if it knew what to discard. Everything accumulates: Plunkett’s writing, Sheridan’s devices, Brechtian design, stylised movement from Colin Dunne, folk songs and new live music from Conor Linehan. With 19 songs, it could be a musical, if the songs advanced the plot.

Not that Plunkett does. Instead of characters, we get a familiar line-up. Fitzpatrick (Ian Lloyd Anderson) is a Jack Clitheroe-like figure, head full of ideals, mouth full of slogans, with a watered-down Nora Clitheroe-esque wife, Annie (Charlotte McCurry), a one-note counterpoint of nagging and maternalism. There’s a lovable gouger, Rashers (a charming Joe Hanley, who played lovable gouger Fluther in a recent Plough) and a savvy prostitute, Lily (Kate Stanley Brennan), who recalls Plough’s savvy prostitute Rosie.

Can a play this derivative, or a project this earnest, be taken seriously? Fay seems undecided, sometimes seeking levity in Neil O’Driscoll’s animated projections, but largely restricting them to stern titles (Commodity, Faith, Economics), like Brecht learning Powerpoint.

The production is often lifted in collaboration with Dunne’s lyrical choreography (Simon Boyle tumbles backwards to represent the collapse of the Church Street tenement, while proletarian chaos stealthily reveals itself as a march) or the fresh musicality in Linehan’s new songs Only the Whores Have Money and The Jib Jib Song. That originality reminds you that there is a huge degree of talent here, put to the service of a bad idea. Until February 1

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