Wild Sky review: a rebellion of ideas

Deirdre Kinahan’s new play fits a love triangle over the forces of the Rising. But can it be contained?

Venue: Bewley's Cafe Theatre

Date Reviewed: February 25th, 2016

Website: bewleyscafetheatre.com

Phone: 0868784001

Fri, Feb 26, 2016, 14:15

   

Wild Sky

Bewley’s Café Theatre, Dublin

***

Ireland at the time of the Easter Rising, fracturing and differing, is seen as an exploding love triangle in Deirdre Kinahan’s new play, told through monologues and songs. On the surface, these stories belong to three people from Meath, at a careful remove from the urban crucible of the rebellion, but Kinahan also makes them emblems of competing ideas.

Tom Farrell is a young man of few convictions who “sleepwalks” into the ranks of the rebels at the GPO, and whom Ian Toner gives a haunted charm. He pines for Josie Dunne, a young woman steered by Caitriona Ennis’s performance from Gaelic league girlishness to impassioned nationalist rhetoric. But she loves another, Mike Lowrey, a poet who we sadly – perhaps pointedly – never meet, who joins the British Army to fight in the first World War, and thus slips out of a nation’s official history.

If the shock waves of that war hastened the formal fractures of Modernism, Kinahan attempts something analogous with her play, letting the tumult of revolution twist its narrative. Tom speaks, for instance, at another point in time to Josie, as he flees the GPO, miraculously unscathed, and sneaks through the corpses and tenements of Dublin towards home: “I picked my way through the litter of lives abandoned to those eaves.” Josie, meanwhile, provides the deeper backstory to the event, while delivering some pleasingly proto-feminist asides. Of Yeats and Gregory’s Cathleen ni Houlihan, in which she once acted, she says, “It wasn’t much of an auld play, if I’m honest.”

It’s a very valid criticism, particularly of a play with such anachronistically clunky female symbolism. But what does that say about the presence of a figure here, played by Mary Murray, who wordlessly represents every female character mentioned, and who sporadically erupts into era-appropriate song? Selected and arranged by Susan McKeown, and delivered well by Murray, they do provide colour, but the fugitive phrases of poetry that Kinahan sneaks into her characters’ speech suggests a subtler link between culture, politics and action.

Seeking a physical sense of rupture similar to the text, perhaps, director Jo Mangan has the cast frequently whirl and rotate, as though spun around by a blast, or repeat an otherwise innocuous phrase in traumatic flashback. Like Ennis’s repeated moments of agitated pacing, though, it’s hard to see what informs it, and it feels like directorial restlessness.

That thickens the suspicion that Wild Sky, which wears its research on its sleeve, has become theatrically agnostic: the text calls it “A site specific piece”, yet it is touring widely, and there’s nothing here that wouldn’t seem quite at home on radio. With no set and neutral grey costumes, the production is deliberately muted, but its performance is pitched so high it feels competitive. Perhaps that’s inevitable. Whether in people or politics, the forces behind the Rising – clashing, complementing and never obviously coherent – may always be more than one play can neatly contain.

Runs until March 19th