The Chief: Stakes are high in vivid retelling of Michael Collins’ big decisions

Galway’s Decadent Theatre have traditionally produced revivals of hit plays and, in more recent times, adaptations of novels. This original play about Michael Collins by Jimmy Murphy, a history play as part of the centenary commemorations, is a departure of sorts.

ct 1 scrutinises the decision-making process in 1922 that led the Free State army to shell the Four Courts where the anti-treaty republicans were holed up, the moment when the split in the nationalist movement became the Civil War.

Ryan Donaldson makes a vibrant Collins; he brings this iconic character to life as a playful charmer. He is also, like Collins, very tall; his head bobs four or five inches above the other actors. Act 1 ends with a coup de théâtre, where a replica of the 18-pounder field gun used in the battle fires out into the audience — the best moment in the play.

In Act 2, the Civil War mayhem has erupted and Collins is dodging assassination attempts while also planning his wedding. He is arming irregulars in the North while trying to reunify the republican movement in the South. Bloody executions are carried out on both sides. The stakes are high and director Andrew Flynn creates moments of great intensity, but there is sometimes too much shouting. Maeve Fitzgerald brings a twinkling intelligence to Collins’ fiancée Kitty Kiernan; Liam Heslin as foot soldier Kelly, a veteran of the European war, does a persuasive job as a Dub who simply wants to provide for his seven children.

Éamon De Valera is an offstage presence throughout; we hear a voiceover of his infamous “wade through Irish blood” speech. It is hard to tell this story without making something of a villain out of Dev. Murphy sticks to the facts but with particular emphasis: it is stressed that Collins’ decision to shell the Four Courts was made under the threat from Winston Churchill that the British army would come in and do it for them otherwise. The only way to avoid the Irish Civil War was to resume the old war against the British, and where would that have led?

This tough call is well articulated. History seems large on the page, but in this sober and vivid telling, we see it as decisions made in small rooms by men with limited options.

Humour wielded as a weapon against trauma

Lie Low at The Cube, Project Arts Centre, Dublin
Until September 17; then Naughton Studio, Lyric Theatre, Belfast from September 21 to 24


Charlotte McCurry and Michael Patrick in Lie Low at Dublin Fringe Festival. Photo by Ciaran Bagnall

Sexual assault has become such a common theme in recent Irish theatre that a critic’s spirits fall at the prospect of another play about it. But writer Ciara Elizabeth Smyth brings a fighting sensibility as well as buckets of theatrical verve to the subject, and this 70-minute play is a gem. It premieres as part of Dublin Fringe Festival.

Faye (Charlotte McCurry) is having trouble sleeping following a break-in and sexual assault at her home. She is terrified she will be raped and murdered. Doctors don’t help so, informed by the internet, she decides to tackle her fears with “exposure therapy”, asking her semi-estranged brother Naoise (Michael Patrick) to role-play a man hiding in her wardrobe. But Naoise has problems of his own, and the story’s complications increase exponentially, with perpetrator and victim status shifting about like mercury on a fork.

Director Oisín Kearney pumps energy into every moment and both actors are terrific. The show is very funny: a duck mask is used to great effect; dancing and music bring charm laced with irony. But despite the large and comical gestures, the story functions at a level of utter subtlety.

Faye’s obviously unbelievable recovery becomes beside the point. The theatrical objective is to pick up the trauma, poke it and laugh at it. Humour is a weapon, wielded here with a deft theatrical touch.

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