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Theatre Review Antidote to imperial amnesia

GAVIN O'TOOLE sees a timely reminder of the life of Constance Markievicz, titan of revolutionary history and female equality

Rebels and Friends
Touring

THE PROBLEM, observed Oscar Wilde, is that the English can’t remember history, while the Irish can’t forget it.

There is a reason for this, of course, residing in the collective trauma suffered by the Irish during 500 years of colonial oppression that eventually tore the island asunder.

But Wilde’s refrain could have been written about Constance Markievicz, who is largely overlooked in Britain yet revered in Ireland.

Her role, as an awkward reminder of Britain’s imperial past, undoubtedly helps to explain her relative invisibility during the centenary commemorations of the suffrage movement in this country last year as the first woman to win a parliamentary election.

Fortunately, Jacqueline Mulhallen’s play Rebels and Friends comes with superb timing, given how Brexit reminds us how little England remembers about the border it manufactured in Ireland.

It subtly explores the many contrasts that defined Markievicz’s life and that of her equally remarkable sister, Eva Gore-Booth.

Eva was a pacifist but “Con” — an artist who married a Polish count — was a revolutionary spared the firing squad for her commanding role in the Easter Rising.

She was the the first woman elected to Britain’s Parliament and the Dail’s first labour minister, while Eva was a suffragette and trade union activist in England, a poet who formed a committed relationship with another woman.

Originally performed in 1989 and revived for a new tour in Britain with the support of the Irish government and – to its credit – Arts Council England, Rebels and Friends is a thoughtful exploration of one of the 20th century’s great sibling relationships.

Mulhallen tells the sisters’ story in this two-woman show through letters they exchanged during Markievicz’s spells in British jails and there’s an explosive sibling chemistry between Dolores Devaujany as Con and Marianne March as Eva, well choreographed by Sian Williams.

They’re expertly directed by William Alderson, who magically creates an entire era without props.   

Tours until November 25,  details: lynxtheatreandpoetry.org

 

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