Outrage: Personal stories weighed down by the past

Review: The third in Deirdre Kinahan’s history series centres on the Civil War

Outrage

The Pumphouse at Dublin Port
★★★★☆

The history play is “a tricky beast”, writes Deirdre Kinahan in the introduction to Raging, a trilogy of work about the establishment of Irish independence. “It can be didactic,” she declaims, “overloaded or worse still . . . boring.” Outrage is the final instalment of the series, which began with the 1916 one-act, Wild Sky, and was followed by Embargo, about the War of Independence. Outrage centres on the Civil War, and two Republican sisters who struggle to accommodate the political compromises of the Treaty. Rebel and agitator Nell (Mary Murray) refuses to accept partition. Propagandist Alice (Catríona Ennis), newly married to PJ (Naoise Dunbar), struggles to find a balance between the demands of domesticity and the revolution. The drama, based on the testimony of three women involved in the Republican movement, is only ever heading in one direction.

Establishing the historical circumstances at the beginning of the play, Kinahan works hard to combat the natural pitfalls of historical exposition. Poetic language brings colour to dry fact, while the demotic speech of her three protagonists ensures the play remains grounded in the reality of history rather than the rhetoric. Kinahan also uses shared narration to break up the scene-setting: as soon as one character threatens to overwhelm us with detail, another voice takes over. The natural didacticism of the history play, however, is less easily avoided. Why do we look to the past except to take lessons for the present and the future? As the inevitable violence is meted out to her characters, Kinahan cannot help turn their stories into a morality tale, which is further weighed down by the continued failures of the State in the 100 years that have passed.

Director Jim Culleton compensates for any weaknesses in the play with a production that surprises us with its subtlety and restraint. He sets the audience on either side of Maree Kearns’s set, a jumble of pallets and furniture that evokes the domestic disruption at the play’s climax, as well as the barricades where the characters do their fighting. The actors address the audience directly but they triangulate at various moments, looking to each other for confirmation and validation as they rake over the occasional contradictions of the past. The personal and political violence is also staged incredibly well. Props are used instead of bodies to great effect, while Carl Kennedy’s sound design provides a physical impact at key moments.

Anchoring Culleton’s sensitive direction are the fine performances from Dunbar, Ennis and Murray (all impeccably dressed by Catherine Fay). They lean into the intimacy of the venue, making eye contact with the audience throughout. They force us to become their witnesses, but ultimately we are as powerless as they are to change the outcome of the conflict when the men with the guns arrive.

Until April 3rd. On demand from April 14th-23rd

READ MORE
RECOMMENDED