Thomas Kilroy’s new play for the Abbey is an awkward work, marred by obviousness and by the tired, cumbersome conceit of relying on twentysomethings to play fifteen-year-olds.
And yet it is also a foundation myth for 21st century Ireland, eschewing the minor notes of nuance in favour of the major chords of sweeping social drama.
Kilroy’s play tells of the travails of a group of teenagers in a small Irish town in the 1950s. The boys get lathered by the Christian Brothers, the girls beaten by their parents; and all are terribly afraid of their bodies.
(Aaron Monaghan excels as the most mature of the young men while, opposite him, Aoife Duffin has moments of startling brilliance.)
So far, so predictable, and the sole surprises come from director Wayne Jordan, who has the audacity to give us an actual game of hurling on stage.
Kilroy gradually ticks off the landmarks on his survey of sexual repression in Ireland: teenage pregnancy, tick; young male suicide, tick; internment in industrial school, tick. Yet even as the story’s progress is predictable, it slowly builds a sense of a tragedy greater than that on the stage.
Wayne Jordan recognises this with a directorial aesthetic that echoes the stylisation of Lorca and the ritualistic rhythms of Michael Keegan Dolan’s midlands plays.
When it closes, with an image of quiet hope, Kilroy’s intent is suddenly, strikingly clear: this is an Aisling for the emergence of a modern nation out of the traumas of early-independence Ireland.
Like Tom Murphy last year, Kilroy has given us a drama rough hewn from the coalface of Irish social history.
These are necessary plays; but what is most exciting – as Jordan, perhaps, suggests, in his closing image – is what comes next.
For the Irish Independent, February 20.