A review by Richard J Thornton for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

 

London Irish Theatre present
 

Allegiance

 

 

Written by Mary Kenny

 

Directed by John Dunne

 

London Irish Centre

 

Feb 15-17, 22-24, Mar 1-3, 2011

 

It’s a potentially disorienting experience seeing a show in a community centre, especially one which entails a host of questions. Firstly, why is the show there? Is it the lure of cheap rent, or does the centre itself have a vested interest in the production? Who will attend? Only the local community, or the usual theatre buffs who slink between fringe and off-west end? With Allegiance, the fact that it’s produced by the community centre that hosts it, and the fact that it’s Irish, might give some clue, and if you’re worried that the crowd will be esoteric, and the concept niche then you’d be right. But homogenous audiences and narrowly focussed plots are not pre-requisites for bad plays, and indeed you’ll learn more about human relationships from both Allegiance and its audience than at most popular West End extravaganzas.

Allegiance is the creative retelling of the private meetings between Winston Churchill, the then liberal politician responsible for maintaining peace in Ireland, and Michael Collins, the fiery but intellectual rebel who’d been tasked with freeing Ireland from English rule. The year is 1921 and as the saying goes ‘England’s hardship is Ireland’s opportunity’. Since the crippling Great War, the Irish rebels have been fighting for independence from a weakened British Imperial force. The English could recede if it weren’t for the danger a free, and possibly hostile, Irish state poses to the welfare of England itself, or if you’re looking at it from Collins’s perspective, England could recede if it swallowed its pride and got off its arrogant and oppressive high horse. The beauty of Kenny’s writing, however, is to inform the audience of all this political background without theatrical stagnation, and amidst a character-led piece which reveals the relationship between personal emotion and patriotic duty.

The script is fiction woven with fact: the meetings happened and the terms were discussed, but what was actually said between the men has been lost to history. But who needs history when contemporary writers such as Kenny have the passion to unearth and re-imagine such a rugged, frayed and painful relationship? Allegiance is a show steeped in political fact but seasoned in the hearts of fathers, sons and husbands. As the show develops, John Dunne’s enlivening direction ensures that the men show both their grievances and triumphs, as well as focusing moments of the script into tear-welling empathy. This dramatic effect is nonetheless helped by an audience that is so involved that Dominic O’Flynn’s Collins actually pauses and stare-guides an interval-truant latecomer back into her seat until she is settled before he carries on with the act. But that was the darker side of the relationship, the warmest moments came when the older Irish audience (I was the only viewer under 35, and, from what I could gather, not Irish) crept into a sing-a-long as viewer encouraged viewer to join until Robert Joyce’s magnificent Churchill was able to stay mute for the final line of ‘Forever Blowing Bubbles’ in the stead of the audience’s collective spirit. It is the casualness of the audience that allowed such collaboration, and the freedom felt around chairs and tables in an un-stifled community centre which is difficult to achieve in an oppressively linear end-on proscenium.

Of course, this ease was oiled by the powerful and professional duet of O’Flynn and Joyce and their cagey yet heartfelt interchanges. Joyce’s knowing speeches built a sense of gravity inside the small community function room which transformed the humble surroundings into a bygone pulpit, while O’Flynn’s anger, passion and resolution felt in no way tailored to the lack of extensive set and minimal mood lighting provided.

When a play really has something to say, it can be difficult for the actors to say it without the art suffering. But when a writer like Mary Kenny shapes a sensitive dramatic body onto the bones of a crucial political event, it doesn’t matter what venue decides to host it, the message will sing true. Allegiance may be specific theatre, for a specific audience, but such focus is not a limitation, but rather a solid core on which to build a play riddled with humanity and repressed love.

 

Box Office: www.londonirishtheatre.com / 0771 359 6436

London Irish Centre
Camden Square
NW1 9XB

15-17, 22-24 Feb, 1-3 Mar @ 8pm

Tickets: £10/5

 

 



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