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London Irish Theatre




Photo by Robbies Photographics

Written and Directed by John Dunne


Old Red Lion Theatre


5 - 23 May 2009



A review by Samuel John for EXTRA! EXTRA!


The Irish famine of the late 19th century is a well-documented and infamous blemish on the nation’s esteemed history. The peasants’ only means of livelihood and ability to pay their English landlords was with their sole crop of potatoes; without which they could neither feed themselves, nor sell for exportation across the Irish Sea. The virus, which inevitably destroyed their harvest, resulted in 2 million lives being lost to starvation and emigration over a four year period.

John Dunne’s play coincides with the 150th anniversary of the Great Hunger and offers acute insight into the human struggle of the period. Epic landscapes and profound global turmoil are often ill at ease on the confined stages of Fringe theatres, yet Famine manages to transcend these physical restrictions. Much of the proceedings take place within domestic settings, which are well served by simple yet effective humble furnishings; yet whilst trailing the exiled criminals on their escape to the city, the bitter cold of the Irish countryside is palpable and seemingly emanates the odour of damp peat.

The wider implications of this state of the nation play are cleverly distilled by a twisting, turning tale of morality that pins hope against inevitable despair and loss of faith. The fear of God drives the peasant’s optimism until hunger eventually eclipses their beliefs. Central to the narrative is Padriac the Priest, aptly portrayed by the authoritative and wise Dhugal Fulton. He is the lynchpin, in sole possession of the truth regarding the curtain raising murder. He challenges both the exiled murderous peasants and gluttonous landowner Steward with questions of ethics. However, the audience soon find his pious principles are laced with hypocrisy.

The desperate need to quench hunger in spite of one’s dignity or faith is wonderfully encapsulated by the Mother/Daughter relationship of Kathleeen (Lisa Sheerin) and Teresa (Gillian Horgan). Nowhere does Dunne’s script more satisfyingly capture the dry, razor sharp Irish rhetoric than the Mother lampooning her daughter’s preference for the Church over men, with the line “She’s too concerned with bedding down with Jesus Christ himself!”

There is the occasional shaky line, lack of complicit acting from time to time, and one or two moments the audience may find misleading; such as when the sight of a dead mother with her baby still attempting to suckle is recounted, succeeded by a scene involving the same actress who played the deceased, playing a different mother with a dead baby. If this was intentional, the Directors reason for juxtaposition may have been too subtle. Overall though, the company attack this finely written play with great competence and vigour. Mr. Dunne deserves great praise for his historically accurate, yet accessible and colourful dialogue. In addition, very natural performances from Jeremiah O’Connor and Marilyn O’Brian, with their poetic, native accents, are highly moving in depicting the wretched hopelessness of the period.


     Photo by Robbies Photographics  


Box office: 0207 837 7816

Tue-Sat @ 7.30pm
Sun @ 4pm
No Show Mon

£13 (£10)


Old Red Lion

418 St John St, Angel, EC1V 4NJ






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