I Am of Ireland, Old Red Lion Theatre

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by guest critic Meredith Jones Russell

A buoyant cast enters singing their hearts out to “Ireland’s Call”. They are dressed as a variety of Irish stereotypes: a man in a balaclava, a priest, Miss Ireland, an Orangeman, a rugby fan. Caricatures, certainly, but there’s a lot of energy, and the suggestion we might see some of these clichés unpacked and explored.

Then, suddenly, we seem to be in a completely different play. I Am of Ireland, an examination of the complexities and divisions of recent Irish history up to the present day, provides short monologues and scenes focusing on an entirely different set of characters, with a markedly different tone.There is the daughter who wants to be a nun despite her mother’s protestations, the Northern Irishman returned home for a funeral after moving to the mainland, priests embroiled in scandal, a former IRA manm a racist Unionist and many others besides. There’s a lot going on, but apart from being generally unhappy stories of conflict, despair, discontentment or anger, little else coheres these scenes.

Seamus Finnegan’s play has grand ambitions, but including so many short stories and characters means most are left underdeveloped and ultimately unresolved; there is simply too much material for any of the plots to be dealt with satisfactorily. Meanwhile, the constant scene changes grind the pace down and seem an unnecessary faff when it’s usually just for the sake of adding a couple of chairs or a table.

At a time of Brexit, abortion referendums and DUP deals, it seems a wasted opportunity to say little new about Ireland’s place in the world today, but instead focus on well-told tales of the Troubles, the Catholic Church and emigration.

The cast works hard with what they have. Angus Castle-Doughty impresses as two psychotic criminals and Shenagh Govan does her best with slightly uninspiring roles as a despairing mother, an inexplicably sceptical police detective, and a priest’s assistant. The latter’s purpose largely limited to walking in, announcing a need for women priests, and walking out again.

Perhaps a play about the singing caricatures of the opening would have actually told us more about the state of modern day Ireland than I Am of Ireland. It certainly might have been more fun.

I Am of Ireland runs until 30 June.

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