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Tag Archives: Playhouse Theatre

The Story of Vincent River

Eleanor Methven and Kerr Logan

Vincent River has a story to tell. His life has a story and his death has a story. His brutal murder at the hands and weapons of a hate mob pass the story of Vincent into the hands of his mother Anita and his secret lover, Davey. Prime Cut productions at the Cube in Project Arts Centre present a scene where one’s true self and one’s self recognition is forever held to ransom by the judging eyes and ears of neighbours, of family and of fear.

Vincent is absent throughout the play but lives on through the stories of his life that are teased out via a cocktail of alcohol and drugs from the grieving Anita and Davey. We view the story as it unfolds in the dank and grimy East-end London flat recently inhabited by Anita (Eleanor Methven) the mother of Vincent River. The flat, with its exposed rafters and wooden-frame walls invoke a vision of a through-section cut into the domestic life and memories of Vincent, Anita and Davey (Kerr Logan). This access into the private domestic sphere allow the audience the feeling of being the society and neighbours constantly watching and gossiping on the hidden love affairs of Vincent.

Methven is incredibly natural in her portrayal of the heartbroken and withered mother, worn down by a life of menial factory work, no husband and the threats to her son owing to his ‘precarious’ lifestyle. In fact this lack of a male role model for Vincent is pondered by Anita for her son enjoying male relationships. “He would have felt safe maybe”. The naturalness of Methven is at times at odds with Logan’s character, Davey. His accent wanders from Hackney to Merseyside at inopportune moments and is distracting but his delivery of an anxious, confused and utterly lost teenager is compelling.

Sarah Jane Shiel’s astute lighting, especially on the exterior street provides the only indication of passing time as the street lights glow in the passing night, allied with Philip Stewart’s tingling soundtrack creates a tense and enclosed environment.

Sophie Motley’s direction is well driven and structured with perhaps just the middle section lacking the emotive power of the opening and concluding sections, which incidentally contain the most imagery of the last moments of Vincent’s life, ensuring it is the absent titular character that has the most powerful story to tell. The graphic portrayal of the murder of Vincent, in a toilet cubicle of a disused railway station emphasises the isolation and extreme lenghts these men were going to in order to hide their relationship. The homophobic mob, identified only by their malice; “the one who cut, the one who kicked, the one who punched”, end Vincent’s story before it truly began.

If author Philip Ridley and director Sophie Motley sought to solely examine hate crimes, one wonders is there perhaps more that could be teased out of this work, perhaps learning more about Vincent than just his death and awkward childhood. Prime Cut productions have made an at times gripping and engrossing production that tells Vincent’s story when as so often the case, the victims of street violence are silenced forever.

Vincent River is at Project Arts Centre until 21 August 2010. www.projectartscentre.ie

Touring to: The Alley Theatre, Strabane, 26 August 2010. www.alley-theatre.com

The Market Place Theatre, Armagh, 27 August 2010. www.marketplacearmagh.com

The Playhouse Theatre, Derry, 28 August 2010. www.derryplayhouse.co.uk

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Blackbird Sings Loudest at the Project

“The Army is no place for politics!” cries a battle-hardened and yet war-weary Private McLaren in David Duggan’s play about the last few years and months in the life of the war poet Francis Ledwidge. Born in county Meath, Ledwidge, often known as the ‘Poet of the Blackbirds’, was killed during World War I at the Battle of Passhendaele in July 1917, serving on the front as a member of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. Still the Blackbird Sings was commissioned by and previously premiered at the Playhouse Theatre in Derry.

At its opening night at the Project Arts Centre,  Duggan’s portrayal of the Meath born and Nationalist Ledwidge presents a visceral and powerful insight into the confrontations and conflicts of the soul and heart experience by Irish men in the service of the British army at a time when Irish Nationalism by non-constitutional means had reached fever pitch.

The play is set at Ebrington barracks in Derry in 1916. Ledwidge, who had succeeded to the rank of Lance Corporal had returned to Ireland following several stints on the war front in Eastern Europe, including Serbia, Turkey and France. Now home, Ledwidge along with his regiment members are coming to terms with the heavy losses sustained at the Somme and also on the home front following the Easter Rising.

Noted as a staunch Nationalist, Ledwidge struggles with a bitter conflict of cause and conscience as his fellow poets have died for the cause of Irish freedom on the streets of Dublin at Easter 1916. He speaks of McDonagh, Plunkett and Pearse as friends and poets and dreamers. Indeed, the title of ‘poet’ seems more important to Ledwidge than does the title of ‘soldier’. When he is questioned about his loyalty to the English crown, its army and cause on the European battlefields, Ledwidge states that causes of freedom are fought on many fronts and not always in Europe, but here at home too.

 Ledwidge’s support of the ‘insurrectionists’ of the Easter 1916 leads to growing suspicion of Ledwidge himself from his company and regiment. Colm Gormley is excellent as Private Caddon as he squabbles and comes to blows with Mark Fitzgerald’s Ledwidge over politics and the commemoration of those Ulstermen that died at the Somme as greater patriots than those who died in Dublin at Easter. The tension between Unionist and Nationalist is palpable and explodes on more than one occasion within the confined and claustrophobic barracks designed by Sarah Bacon. 

This theme of the ‘right’ cause for Irishmen and Irish Nationalists is teased out and explored by Duggan and avoids becoming too polemic in its treatment of the case. In conversation with Irish Times, Duggan recounts: “Irish nationalists joined the British army during the first World War because a carrot was dangled in front of them in the form of the promise of Home Rule,” he says. “They wanted to prove themselves capable of looking after their own country in the face of German aggression. They joined fellow countrymen of a unionist persuasion in a tense resolve, aimed at achieving unity and justice in Europe and a future for Ireland. But at the same time as Home Rule was being offered, a pledge was made to the Ulster regiments that Ireland would always remain within the United Kingdom. For a deep thinker and a committed nationalist like Ledwidge, these mixed messages proved extremely problematic and he grappled with the difficulty of squaring the circles.”

The words of the poet Ledwidge are an escape from the constant threat of death by bomb, bullet or court martial and from the soul destroying wait to be called to the Front. Private Gamble, well characterised by Conan Sweeney typifies the soldier driven to the brink of madness from shell shock and hears the command whistle and guns even in his sleep. As Ledwidge forges a close relationship with the servant girl, Rosie, their romance is short lived and Ledwidge and his company again face the war front.

Still, the Blackbird Sings.Image courtesy of the Project Arts Centre

Ledwidge laments the death of the 1916 martyrs as much as Private Caddon laments the death of so many Ulstermen men at the Somme. The irony in Caddon’s desire to have died there too reflects the Blood Sacrifice espoused especially by Peasre before the 1916 Rising. Mark Fitzgerald more than capably handles the difficult role of portraying the struggles within Ledwidge as he fights for realisation of his true self, be that soldier, Nationalist or poet. Ledwidge’s feeling towards the dead of 1916 and indeed the dead of war in general is truly evident in his Lament for Thomas MacDonagh:

He shall not hear the bittern cry
in the wild sky, where he is lain,
Nor voices of the sweeter birds
Above the wailing of the rain
 
Nor shall he know when the loud March blows
Thro’ slanting snows her fanfare shrill,
Blowing to flame the golden cup
Of many an upset daffodil.

The presence of sand seeping from hand to ground at random times during the play is a clever device in portraying the imagery of death and ashes returning to the earth as it also counts down an irreversible death clock for so many Irishmen in the British Army, including Ledwidge. The poetic imagery of the blackbird with its yellow beak, the strength of the river and beauty of the Irish landscape are expressed effortlessly by Fitzgerald while Packy Lee delivers a strong performance that is as humorous as it is heartfelt.

With North-South relations currently dominating Irish news headlines for once again tragic reasons, coupled with the extended recent talks at Hillborough regarding policing and justice in the North, Duggan’s play is right on queue in making a willing audience rethink the ethics of conflict and the assertion of when and whether it can be discerned that a war is justified. Can freedom be truly won through war? Does a uniform define an Irishman and make his cause worthwhile? Duggan wrestles with these questions at a vital time for the future of peace in Ireland and justifies the Project Arts Centre as one of the most relevant and important of Irish stages.

At the Project Arts Centre until 6 March and tours to Ballybofey, Co Donegal; Belfast; and Ebrington Barracks, Derry.

http://www.projectartscentre.ie/programme/whats-on/875-still-the-blackbird-sings

Visit the Fancis Ledwidge Museum in the cottage birthplace of the poet in County Meath. http://www.francisledwidge.com/

Rehearsals for 'Still, the Blackbird Sings'. Image courtesy of totallydublin.ie

 

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