Review: The Rising

This loud and proud telling of the 1916 Rising leaves no soldier behind

John Ruddy and Nick O’Connell make a loud song and dance out of the 1916 Rising at Powerscourt Theatre

John Ruddy and Nick O’Connell make a loud song and dance out of the 1916 Rising at Powerscourt Theatre


The Rising
Powerscourt Theatre
If every lesson in Irish history was presented like this – 90 minutes of exhilarating and terrifying factual theatre – not a doodle or a daydream would occur.

In this new intimate theatre space in the loft of
Dublin’s Powerscourt Centre, John Ruddy (McKeague) and Nick O’Connell (O’Brien) are making a loud song and dance out of the 1916 Rising ahead of its upcoming centenary – and rightly so. The play’s writer and director, Joe O’Byrne, has fashioned a strikingly simple and informative method of retelling the pivotal period of Irish revolution in the fight against British rule.

First, we meet O’Brien, a self-confessed Catholic who cracks a few time-filling quips as he waits awkwardly for his Protestant pal to join him on stage. They have made a friendly “agreement”, we are told, to re-enact the tumultuous events of the Rising, from both Catholic and Protestant standpoints, and to stick strictly to the script in doing so.

When the two unite, grappling with flayed arms for centre stage, they part again, one by way of a jig and the other by a march through the centre of the audience in an orange sash. From there, the two denominations replay the events with robust choreography by Breandán De Gallaí and “unscripted” interjections from each opposing persuasion.

The play follows the current outbreak in recent productions of multiple roleplay and expeditious morphing. Both actors duck and dive through an array of past figures, both real and fictitious, using a multitude of song, Irish dancing, and various props and instruments that scale the walls
of the stage. Ruddy’s characterisations – particularly his inner-city Concepta and, at times, his Pádraig Pearse – are so funny that they divert us guiltily from the weight of the lesson. When we aren’t laughing, or relishing in Ruddy’s remarkably nippy flexibility or O’Connell’s impressive footwork, we are paying greater respect for
the reiterated reality of bloodshed, suffering and surrender.

The stage is overcrowded with items to the point that the actors appear physically inhibited, and the reverberation from McKeague’s trumpet and bass drum is uncomfortably loud.

But this production is clever, fast-paced, and all-encompassing, with its more penetrating moments materialising when the pace slows, the actors come up for air, and the perpetual beating of hammers and drums finally stops.

Ends March 21