To Have To Shoot Irishmen – A Review

Through Dublin, the gunshots are heard by all on Easter morning, 1916. This new play written by Lizzie Nunnery tells the true story of Hanna & Francis Sheehy Skeffington. Whilst Hanna awaits the impending revolution, Francis demands peace amongst the streets. Meanwhile, John sees the river of blood and William is ready to serve the British army at just eighteen. Through poetic lines, traditional folk song, and emotional performances, this captivating performance delivers a story of power, corruption, and hatred, but also rebellion, humanity, and hope.

The audience may have entered the Everyman, but inside, they were transported to 1916 Dublin; fractured, damaged, and tense. Without a raised stage, the audience became immersed in another world and time, with the set outlined with rubble, glass shards, disregarded papers. Standing central, a steel structure resembling a partial outline to a home. Along with the thrust stage and the angled structure, it felt that the audience weren’t only coming in, but the stage was projecting out. A light shade, smashed cupboards and a few chairs reminded the audience that this was once a home. Raised on a platform, a piano and a stool. Not in perfect condition, but an instrument that offers salvation and enjoyment in times of dire need of hope, not intervention. The orange glow simultaneously acted in a manner which was warm and welcoming; a vision of hope, and also that of constant burning and destruction. Rachael Rooney (Designer) quickly establishes the mix of blurred emotions through the stage alone. Aside emotion, the whitewash of the set acts as a place that isn’t here nor there, but an in-between land; an in-between land of nothing.

Incorporated into the stage is the musical instrumentation, a clear demonstration that voices and music comes from one effected by their environment and experiences. The original folk songs (Vidar Norheim and Lizzie Nunnery) embedded throughout the performance are dramatic and hard hitting. The almost isolated vocals take lead, rather than the instruments. Every word is sang with a punch, leaving the audience clinging onto every word sung, and also their hearts. The calling of street names reminded the audience that this story was all too true, and these events left many bloody and dead; men, women, children, evoking a human response.

Elinor Lawless stands out in this performance as she instantly grabbed your attention with her impassioned performance. Not one moment was spent thinking ‘she is an actress portraying someone’, but rather this is a woman who has lived this pain, and now she is being listened to: she will not stop. Her voice always carried pain and heartbreak, and her vocals made the audience’s heart bleed for her. In fact, the style of the songs, and the phenomenal vocals that Lawless instantly enters the stage with, are a stone throw away from the likes of Tracy Chapman, a woman with a message that needs to be heard, a message that comes from emotion and truth.

Lizzie Nunnery (Playwright) navigates her way through this story through the use of acting, but also poetry and song, elevating this play to a new level, an epic poem which is overwhelming, both in its beautiful creation and strong performance. It is not easy to encapsulate the differing views of a nation, on an extremely delicate topic which is just as potent now, without causing offence. Somehow, Nunnery does this perfectly. She not only narrates the events, but creates four strong, independent characters which reflect differing views, and just as the play explores the different dynamics and tensions between characters, the audience also learns of our own tensions in the world, and specifically this event in Irish history that the English tend to sweep over, or forget. This is what makes this play so potent. Not only does it educate the audience, it reminds us that not only this event, but Ireland’s history is important, making the Liverpool Irish Festival so vital. It is great to celebrate culture and diversity, but only if we learn, and together we grow. Sadly, this seems more important than ever in today’s world and political climate.

This is an important part of history that should be remembered, and this play does just that. It reminds us of the atrocities, the humanity, and the lives that lived through it. It has inspired me to learn more about Irish history, and the life of Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington, and I hope it does the same for you.

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