Guerilla Days in Ireland by Tom Barry
The Olympia Theatre, 72 Dame Street, Dublin 2. To 8 September.
8 pm. Saturday matinee 3 pm.
WARNING: Strobe lighting effects used in production.
Runs 120 mins, two intervals.
Tickets: 00 3531 6793 323 www.olympia.ie
Review: Michael Paye 4 September 2012.
Superbly acted production.
Tom Barry was one of Ireland’s greatest military commanders. At the age of twenty-three, after returning from active service with British forces, he was given absolute command of the 3rd West Cork Brigade of the IRA. From Barry’s memoir of the same title, director Neil Pearson puts a collection of vignettes on stage as an older Barry looks back on his involvement in the War of Independence.
With only four actors playing twenty-seven roles, there is an incredible sense of energy on stage. Scenes come thick and fast as memories are evoked, and the actors handle this responsibility magnificently, with Michael Grennell and Jack Walsh switching between a myriad of characters with extraordinary skill. Aidan O’Hare, playing Young Tom Barry, manages to evoke integrity and wilfulness while capturing Barry’s sense of moral responsibility. Brendan Conroy, as Tom Barry, brings emotion and wisdom to the play through numerous finely delivered monologues and arguments with his younger self.
In Act I, footage of the 1916 Rising and the subsequent guerrilla war is shown behind Barry as he tells his story, with a pro-British voice explaining the plan to “coerce the Irish into submission.” This marks a wonderful dichotomy between the Irish Nationalist Barry and British conservative opinion, setting the tone for the play. Later, during the Kilmichael Ambush, strobe lighting evokes rebel gun fire, but soon becomes symbolic of the intensity of combat for the relatively inexperienced West Cork Brigade, a triumph of light and sound direction. Equally, Olan Wrynn’s intriguing set design contains numerous crosses draped in overcoats and ragged scarves, monuments to the fallen men whom Barry recalls, adding solemnity to the excitement of battle.
Barry did not have the luxury of pondering moral dilemmas in combat, and the frantic pace at which the tale unfolds evokes this; only perfunctory attention is paid to trauma and psychological issues in favour of recounting heroic deaths for Ireland. Fortunately, O’Hare is adept at capturing emotional turmoil in the heat of the battle scenes. Overall, the play wholly subscribes to Barry’s nationalist fervour and celebration of Irish wiliness. However, the traditional Irish music score complete with bodhrán and fiddles, though energising, is quite formulaic in this respect. Nonetheless, as a performance, it delivers on its promise of an exciting, fast-paced evocation of guerrilla warfare in Ireland.
Brendan Conroy: Tom Barry; Various.
Aidan O’Hare: Young Tom Barry.
Michael Grennell: Various (9 roles).
Jack Walsh: Various (11 roles).
Director: Neil Pearson.
Production Manager; Costumes: Maria Young.
Movement Director: Michael McCabe.
Lighting Designer: Michael Hurley.
Set Designer: Olan Wrynn.
Sound Designer: Richard St John.