Arts

Classic O'Casey play at Lyric well worth a shot

Anne Hailes

Amy McAllister and Mark O'Halloran in The Shadow of a Gunman

REVIEW

The Shadow of a Gunman

Lyric Theatre, Belfast

This one-act play by Sean O’Casey is set in Dublin in 1920 during the Irish War of Independence, but thanks to a mini-skirt and a modern portable typewriter we soon realise the story could be anywhere at any time.

It confused some of the traditionalists but for others it made sense and this subtle update meant the message had all the more impact.

The stage is a cheap, untidy flat in a run-down area of the city. Two tall windows look out to the entry where the sheets are hung out to dry and the Auxiliary Division of the Royal Irish Constabulary has access to the people living in the overcrowded tenement.

The main characters are two unlikely lads - Donal (Mark O’Halloran), a romantic poet who shares a room with Seumas (David Ganly), a salesman of cheap toys and braces.

They are poles apart yet one of the most intriguing scenes sees the two men lying in their beds and in the wee small hours confiding their different outlooks on life.

Upstairs lives Minnie Powell (Amy McAllister), who is sweet on the poet especially as there’s untrue talk that he’s an IRA sympathiser. But, he says, what danger can there be in being the shadow of a gunman?

She proves her love when the tenement is surrounded and the soldiers begin searching the rooms.

Seumas’s friend Mr Maguire (Muiris Crowley) has stashed a bag in the room. They discover it contains grenades, so as the soldiers approach Minnie takes the bag and hides it in her own room - surely they won’t harass a young girl?

Wrong. Minnie is arrested and shot. The two men are left racked with guilt. “Minnie Powell is dead, killed to save us.”

Strong performances from Dan Gordon, an Orangeman with a Bible under one arm and a picture of King William under the other, from Catherine Walsh (another resident) and Lloyd Cooney as a young republican supporter - in fact the entire cast are impressive.

At times of tension, director Wayne Jordan has introduced a sinister and unsettling feel to proceedings with an ominous low hum vibrating throughout the theatre.

These are O’Casey’s words, no updating here, and with his daughter Siobhan in the audience on Thursday night it was important to honour his writing.

Excellent was her verdict as it was for the majority of the audience.

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