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The Making of Mollie review: Anna Carey’s book is now a razor-sharp suffragette stage comedy

Theatre: In Sarah Baxter’s production at the Ark in Dublin, the story unfolds in an ingenious slapstick version of Dublin

The Making of Mollie

The Ark, Dublin

When it comes to hungering for something in life, Mollie’s appetite seems to begin and end at the dinner table. The teenager at the centre of the Ark’s razor-sharp comedy is first seen denouncing the house rules, which dictate that only her brother is allowed to go back for seconds. A surprise public appearance by an impassioned suffragette makes for a soul-changing conversion, however. “Women are being shut out of power!” says the speaker. “And the best parts of chicken!” adds Mollie.

Anna Carey’s charming adaptation of her novel, set in Dublin during the run-up to a suffragist demonstration in 1912, may be about the planting of ideas and seeing them grow. There are greater discoveries to be found, as the story, extracted from its original epistolary format, unfolds in an ingenious slapstick version of Dublin. Against black-and-white scenery, pedestrians are seen passing by in exaggerated, flamingo-like steps, while the piano jabs of Tom Lane’s music evoke early-century vaudeville. Sarah Baxter, the production’s director, seems fascinated by a burlesque of presuffrage Ireland as an absurdly muted and rigid place.

That leaves Ashleigh Dorrell’s Mollie surrounded by a city of creepily genteel inhabitants, while her sister Phyllis, played by Eyum Pricilla, sneaks out to hand out leaflets about women’s right to vote. Period details make for amusing colour; when Mollie speculates about Phyllis’s double life, her friend Nora – in Niamh McAllister’s adrenalised performance – sounds obsessed with unhinged republicans (“Maybe she’s a Fenian revolutionary!”).

Upon discovery of her sister’s activism, Mollie becomes both the best and the worst person to be brought into the fold: a youth offering opinions without restraint but potentially too easily galled by her pompous brother (a super Ian Toner) to keep a lid on a secret.


Still, that need for things to operate underground elicits a pathos for the period, whether in watching girls having to stand conspiratorially on a city tram while surrounded by indifferent passengers or in seeing them compose a feminist anthem behind closed doors. The wider world of boys and men seems stilted by comparison; even Rowan Finken’s well-meaning Frank, a sharply dressed preppy trying to aid the cause, is impossibly respectable in one scene where he rescues a neighbour’s cat: “I knew playing rugby would come in handy someday!”

Seeing its characters resort to cloak-and-dagger stunts, Carey’s script is admirable as an anatomy of activism, fluent in methods of getting the word out while giving its participants their own reservations. At one point Phyllis reports sadly on woeful instances of police brutality used against protesters. “What if we get arrested?” someone asks as Mollie and Nora attempt to make their own statement. In order to be taken seriously, the play makes clear, you first must do something daring.

If the gradual conversion of Deirdre Dwyer’s set from black and white to colour is an arch comment on progress, of a city finally following suit, the girls can finally find reassurance. Nora turns to Mollie, realising that they might no longer be alone. “Perhaps we started something,” she says.

The Making of Mollie is at the Ark, in Temple Bar in Dublin, until Saturday, March 16th

Chris McCormack

Chris McCormack is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in culture