After waiting so long for a ticket, I’d have been disappointed if this play, a new response to ‘The Tempest’ by Leo Butler, hadn’t been at least entertaining. Fortunately, despite only being a recently-rehearsed reading of the play, it was absolutely worth it.
The plot centred round an 18th century broken family- a protestant soldier, a Catholic woman and their two illegitimate children, one a savage young boy (a response to Caliban), the other an innocent nine year old girl (Miranda). The son’s wild antics and freeing of enclosed animals cause him to be arrested by a group of English redcoats who abuse him badly, forcing the soldier to acknowledge his son and be in turn humiliated and pulled up before a tribunal.
The brother tries to persuade the sister to run away with him, despite her dream of escaping to England, the promised land, with her father. We discover that the son’s wayward behaviour has included sexually assaulting his own sister, and the two are taken by redcoats, the son’s eyes being put out before he is clapped in stocks- the play opening and closing with scenes of the sister tending to her brother half-warily. In an earlier scene, chronologically later, we see the final disintegration of the family- the mother reduced to prostituting herself to the English commander, the father forced to bury the body of the daughter while the mother dresses the commander after sex in the same room. The son presumably has too died.
Revelling in its Irish atmosphere and setting, the play was both funny and shockingly explicit. Stage directions were read aloud by the director, the effect of which was to distance us from some truly graphic violence, having to imagine it while the actors sat in their chairs- a peculiarly effective feeling. Here, the Irish were trying to make their way under the English yoke, and the consequences of their actions were brought to bear even more hardly on them.
The acting was very good, especially considering there had only been two days of rehearsal. Mention should go to Aidan McArdle as the son, who juggled an internal savagery with naivety and a strange sense of committment to the people he ‘loved’, Charlene McKenna, who played the child sister to great effect, Gabrielle Reidy, who managed to hold our attention through a whole scene where she never spoke yet maintained a presence, and Gerard Murphy who stood out among the redcoats with his bluster, quick temper and powerful voice.
It was not an uplifting experience, and had no comic resolution apart from a vague hope in the final moments between the two siblings as the sun arose and they looked forward to escape- though by that stage, we had already seen their final fates. This was a play about the decisions we make and the way outside forces corrupt a locality- which of course has striking relevance to the Tempest.
Nothing was said about plans to take the production further, but it would be fascinating to see a fully-mounted performance of this play once the work is completed.