Unshakeable Spirits: A Fit Wife for a Revolutionary

First Written for The Reviews Hub

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Writer: Sharon Sexton
Director: Cillian O’Donnachadha
Reviewer: Laura Marriott

A Fit Wife For a Revolutionary focuses in on the rarely mentioned Kathleen Clarke, wife of the first signatory of the Proclamation Thomas Clarke and a revolutionary in her own right. Her story is fascinating and Sharon Sexton is marvellous as Kathleen Clarke.

The play encompasses the events of Easter week 1916. From the days immediately preceding the Rising before ending with her husband’s execution. Unlike the many women who were active in the Rising Clarke spent Easter week alone at home, frustrated and always hoping for news of her husband. She had been trusted by the Irish Republican Brotherhood to guard their secret documents and finances and to ensure their safe keeping in the event of the leaders’ deaths.
Her strength, love and passion are inspiring and take on an enhanced resonance when considered in the light of the plethora of 1916 works that have emerged this year. The final moments are particularly are delicate and moving. The play’s title comes from something another woman said to Clarke when she realised how strongly she supported the Rising. Meant as an insult for Kathleen it rang true and she took it as a compliment. It is important to note that this is not a self-important, lecturing piece. There are moments of humour throughout and one can see that it was written with a real interest in the play’s subject. It helps to make the events of that famous week feel close and familiar.

Smock Alley Boy’s School is the perfect setting for A Fit Wife For A Revolutionary. The play begins with Clarke praying in the old church windows, looking down over the audience before she descends and speaks on our level. The play makes use of the unusual theatre setting. The different levels, the empty brick windows that once were part of a church.

Sexton is an accomplished and experienced actress who commands the stage as Clarke. Remarkably this is her playwriting debut. It is fully rounded, powerful and timely. Hopefully, this marks the beginning of a second career for Sexton as a writer. It is also well researched and feels authentic, as does the set which includes an old singer sewing machine, writing desk, a doll’s basket and table that at times doubles for a shop counter. This centenary year has seen an outpouring art to commemorate and investigate 1916 and its legacy, much of which has focused on trying to reintegrate the women back into the Easter Rising narrative; however, A Fit Wife For A Revolutionary is without doubt one of the finest pieces of work to emerge this year.

Runs until 3 December 2016 | Image: Contributed

Review Overview

The Reviews Hub Score: 4.5*

Key Word: Powerful

DTF: These Rooms

First Written for The Reviews Hub

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Directors: David Bolger & Louise Lowe

Reviewer: Laura Marriott

ANU have returned to Dublin Theatre Festival with an immersive live theatre performance created in collaboration with CoisCéim Dance Theatre Group. Together they have created These Rooms a truly unique experience that incorporates film, dance, visual art and theatre.

ANU often tackle the history of Ireland. Recent years have given them ample material to work with as they have investigated the history, memory and legacy of the First World War and the 1916 Easter Rising. They have done this with great success, their recent production of Pals: The Irish at Gallipoliat Collins Barracks winning multiple theatre awards. With These Rooms ANU take a rather unusual way of dealing with 1916; exploring the lives of the bystanders and civilians whose homes on North King Street were invaded. 15 civilians were killed by British soldiers. The consequences were devastating and ANU use the eye witness testimonies of 38 female voices to piece this story together and the effect it had over the coming years. It is an important reminder of how the great political moments of an age have intensely personal and individual consequences.

Entering the performance venue from the street audience members are ushered into a bar with chairs and tables dotted about the space. As people file in and take their seats scenes of black and white footage of the 1966 commemorations of the 1916 Rising are shown on a small television. The footage of 1966 asks the question: who does the Rising belong too? In whose name was the action taken?

Performers take their positions within the audience, physically taking you on a journey through the different rooms of the house. ANU have been cited in the Irish Times as being Ireland’s leading site–specific specialists and for good reason. As These Rooms show the building is just as much a player in the piece as each performer. Behind the closed pub doors the trauma and memories are locked away from view. The attention to detail is stunning. This is a physical and intimate piece, sometimes uncomfortably so, that is ambitious in its attempt to engage the audience with their social history. Experience Irish history and revolutionary theatre at close hand with this excellent performance of These Rooms.

Runs until 16 October as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival | Image: contributed

Review Overview

The Reviews Hub Score: 4.5*

Key Word: Mesmerising

Fallen by Lia Mills Review

 

The book choice for Dublin: One City One Book 2016

 

“who was I, come to that, and what would the morning bring?”

 

The middle class Crilly family live near Sackville Street in Rutland Square and it is from this vantage point that they experience the events of 1916. The novel introduces us to Katie, a 22 year old history graduate who finds herself in limbo after her twin Liam has joined the army while she is prevented from further study by her mother, who desires nothing more from her than to marry a respectable Catholic man and have a family of her own.

However when the dreaded news arrives that Liam has been killed in action her life will never be the same. Katie’s “mind couldn’t fit itself around the shape of his absence” and she struggles to find her place in this changing environment. Her father arranges for her to work as a historical researcher for a local amateur historian and in time she pieces together more of Liam’s life by meeting with his fiancée and former soldier Hubie Wilson. As the Rising progresses Katie begins to break free of the expectations that have constrained her and gradually starts to grow into herself.

Fallen begins with the outbreak of war, before shifting onto the effects that bereavement and the toll of fighting for the Empire is taking at home, before shifting once more to tell the story of Easter week 1916.

Mills expertly uses the somewhat privileged voice of Katie to take the reader on a journey through the Rising as it might have been experienced by Dubliners at the time. This angle on the rising has not been fully explored in fiction yet putting Mills ahead of the curve. Fallen investigates the day to day challenges inherent in living in a conflict situation. The brief hospital scenes are excellent at highlighting the way in which the personal is affected by the political and military action taking place. Encompassing education, female suffrage and self determination one of the most striking elements is how the characters experiences of grief and survival are so visceral and yet the socialist intentions declared in the Proclamation seem to have little direct effect on the mass of the population as they run around Dublin trying understand what is happening.

Conflicted allegiances are explored both in terms of the personal battle Katie faces between her obligations to her family and desire to break free; and also the conflict faced by the Irish fighting in the war and the Irish supporting the Rising. The focus on the personal experience of Katie is one readers can identify with and also brings one closer to the events of 1916 helping to bring history alive for the reader.

Mills provides Katie with a potential love interest. This is one of the few unsurprising elements of the plot and although well done it would have been nice had Katie found her own way to maturity and certainty, without having to have a man lead the way. The romance is also a little hurried and one doubts how long lasting it will be when it has clearly been coloured by her grief.

The title is particularly interesting and has joint meanings:

“Mother said Liam was one of ‘The Fallen’, as though it was an honour”.

“I was the one who was fallen, now”.

As her brother fell into death Katie falls as she awakens sexually, stepping outside of the path set for her as Mills investigates sex and death in light of the nationalist and religious sentiments of the time.

The novels dedication is “for the city”. The descriptions of the Dublin are strong and vibrant; almost as though the city is an independent character at the heart of it all: “Sackville Street. An extension of my own street. The heart of my city”.

Fallen is a timely novel. There has been a process of actively reintegrating women into the narrative of the rising. The focus throughout remains on Katie as she tries to understand and find her place in life. The suggestion is that her ‘job’ is to wait for someone to marry her. “I wasn’t sure I wanted to marry anyone. But, if I didn’t, what would I do with my life? The truth of it was that I didn’t know what a person like me was for”.

Women feature prominently: mothers, sisters, fiancées, nurses and female academics. Although it is Liam who kick starts the story with his path acting as the catalyst for the rest of the action the novel maintains a firm focus on the women. In an interesting twist Mills is sure to avoid falling into the pitfall of idealising all of her women and shows her mother as often being one of the more conservative characters. She is always trying to maintain the status quo: respectability. Although often unlikeable she is a recognisable character and next to her her husband seems a little browbeaten, always trying to find the easy road.

There are one or two loose threads. A second brother Matt appears to act as a foil to his sisters, showing how relatively easy it could be for a man to do as he decides. However his character and plot lines are so thinly sketched out that this seems a little superfluous.

Fallen is a skilfully drawn evocative novel that brings the reader closer to Dublin and the events of 1916. Ultimately it is the city itself that is the strongest, most evocatively drawn character and we watch it as it is changed beyond all recognition, scarred but still standing.

 

Tag line: A tale of self discovery in among the confusion and uncertainty of Dublin from the outbreak of the First World War to the events of Easter week 1916.

 

Lia Mills, Fallen (Penguin Ireland, Ireland, 2014). ISBN 9780241964729. 276pp., Paperback.