The-Non Stop Connolly Show
Margaretta D'Arcy and John Arden
It would be hard to find any public figure in Britain who would now say that Ireland should be ruled by Britain. But very few of these people would recognise the justice of those who rebelled for an independent Ireland during Easter 1916. Nor would they be likely to acknowledge the injustice of the British execution / murder of the leaders of that rebellion.
The Finborough Theatre should be commended for choosing as part of its Great War 100 Series a staged reading of The-Non Stop Connolly Show which does precisely that. First performed in Ireland in 1975, it consists of six plays by Margaretta D'Arcy and John Arden centred on James Connolly, one of the leaders of the uprising taking us from his childhood in Edinburgh to his execution in May 1916.
The show is less a character study and more of an account of the events and debates that shaped Connolly’s political development. Short, concentrated scenes in the text mix verse, puppets, songs, pictures on a back screen and naturalistic dialogue. It is written from the point of view of a socialist activist. There is a satiric exaggeration of employers and many of those in powerful positions.
The Finborough is showing each play twice over a period of twenty days, the first time on a Sunday or Monday evening and then as part of a seventeen-hour complete six-play performance over the two days of the 23 and 24 of April.
I attended the performance of Part Three: Professional 1836 – 1903. This deals with Connolly’s attempt to build a socialist organisation, his use of the newspaper as an organising tool, his opposition to Britain’s war against the Boar Republic in South Africa and his arguments against a socialist entering a government that represents employers.
The cast of ten use no props, puppets or costumes, but are confident and relaxed in their readings. Aiden O’Neill as James Connolly is particularly impressive, often acting off the book which, given this was the first performance of what was advertised as a staged reading, is remarkable.
Lucia McAnespie also gives a warm, believable performance as Connolly’s wife Lillie.
The director Shane Dempsey has generally avoided the production being a static presentation. The first half is fluent and effective. The second half is less sure-footed.
Although someone sat to the side of the stage with a guitar, none of the songs in the text were attempted.
The Finborough has reduced the twenty-four-hour version of 1975 to seventeen hours. The cuts to part three are generally sensitive to the text though they do remove the debate in which Connolly sides with the revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg.
However, there are plenty of engaging aspects to this production from the amusing conversations Connolly has about his trousers with William O’Brian (Shane Armstrong) to his unexpected and surprising political relationship with the Irish nationalist Maud Gonne (Niamh McGowen)
This Finborough production is enjoyable and important. I shall certainly be buying a ticket to one of the other plays in the series.
Reviewer: Keith Mckenna