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Theatre Review Threads unravel in ill-woven Irish tapestry

I Am of Ireland
Old Red Lion Theatre 
London

THERE is promise in the first five minutes of this new play from Seamus Finnegan. All seven of the cast appear as a troupe of Irish stereotypes, from the balaclava’d IRA man to the Orangeman in the sash his father wore. There’s a priest of course and, bafflingly, a drag queen who's never seen again.

It’s an early sign that there are going to be loose ends, but the problem with having multiple storylines is that there needs to be cohesion somewhere along the way.

The themes explored are familiar — the future of the Catholic church, which seems to have damned itself, the self-destructive bigotry of loyalists looking for new enemies to destroy, the forced exile of so many and the notion that the path to peace can be a disappointment to those who have put faith in the bullet and the bomb.

Despite the valiant efforts of a talented ensemble, those loose threads never coalesce into woven tapestries in Ken McClymont's production.

Euan Macnaughton is tender as the father of a daughter entering a convent and Shenagh Govan as the mother distraught at the girl’s determination have scenes which are more emotionally layered than any other in the piece. Mum Theresa seems to harbour secrets in her love-hate relationship with the faith of her fathers and greater exploration from this woman’s perspective might have invested more of a sense of humanity.

As it is, the female characters are cartoonish. The priest’s housekeeper wants women to take the cloth but only, it appears, to deal with the lures of the flesh — God forbid that any woman should have her own legitimate reasons for seeking high office. A career woman is, guess what, slick, cynical and somewhat robotic.

The disappointment is in the staleness of the writing in the gobbets of history dished out. If you’d heard nothing of the Easter Rising, knew little of James Connolly and were unaware of the brutal history of Long Kesh, there may be something new in I Am of Ireland.

But without understanding the constant emotional upheaval induced by the Troubles and their aftermath, you'd be none the wiser about their ongoing impact.

Runs until June 30, box office: oldredliontheatre.co.uk

 

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