The Magnificent Seven
Red, Kitty, Molly, Bernadette, Flossie, Síona and Concepta. They might sound like the Clonmel equivalent of the seven dwarfs, but these are The Roaring Banshees. Seven girls who spell serious trouble for the newly formed Irish Republic. In “The Roaring Banshees,” seven elite Cumann na mBán operatives flee to America following their botched attempt to kill De Valera. Once there, this secret seven rub shoulders with the Chicago mob, vying for a foothold in the Speakeasy business during the Prohibition Era. As ideas and titles go, “The Roaring Banshees” by Peter McGann and John Morton, sounds like dynamite, comically, ideologically, and dramatically. A cursory glance at the cast and, like a good batch of Flossie’s poitín, it looks like great times ahead. Except “The Roaring Banshees” isn’t a good batch of Flossie’s poitín. Rather, it’s poisoned by poor writing, poor production values, and poor direction that falls short of its impressive cast. Even if it generates some genuine belly laughs at times, not even its magnificent seven can save “The Roaring Banshees” from turning a long game into something of a long night.
Feeling like the greatest story never told, McGann and Morton’s “The Roaring Banshees” is fraught with problems right to the end. Indeed, its tedious tendency to speechify not only creates drag, it makes the unlikely ending feel like it’ll never end, yielding less a resolution so much as a sense of release when it finally happens. Dropping names with the ease of a rabbit on laxatives, “The Roaring Banshees” trades in historical (and faux historical) soundbites, passing off endless names and places as context. Which don’t so much illuminate or illustrate, or even make for good jokes, so much as tediously alienate, especially the young and those unfamiliar with gangster history. Like its secrets that make no sense, and other big asks, all are poorly set up just to make the next domino fall. Flowing like it really wished it was a movie, one made by a low budget production company with shares in herbal cigarettes, “The Roaring Banshees” presents huge challenges for director Sarah Baxter. Challenges Baxter doesn’t quite rise to in this instance. Showing poor composition, and some torturously long and unimaginatively handled transitions between scenes, “The Roaring Banshees” is not Baxter’s finest hour, who often fails to come to grips with the script, the space, or the compositional possibilities of her seven strong cast.
If humour and drama are stop start throughout, hopes for fresh feminist insights prove essentially fruitless, with “The Roaring Banshees” riding feminist coat tails and only rarely going anywhere new. Opening with women dressed in male and military attire cradling babies, the image immediately sets about subverting expectations of womanhood and motherhood. But it's an image that proves to be a one trick pony. As are Aine O’Hara’s costumes which prove predictable, with her pared back set depending on the audiences' indulgence rather than their imagination, even if the Art Deco floor is exceedingly clever. John Gunning’s lighting, looking as if the design plan got lost two hours before curtain, frequently looks all over the place. Attempts at glare, or poor silhouettes, often look lazy and sloppy. Kevin Maguire’s sound design (with assistance from Sinead Heavin) suffers an identity crisis, evoking period jazz along with later musical pieces whose placement also looks lazy rather than insightful. Gun shots and rather convenient explosions sound like they were borrowed from a low budget film being shot next door. Indeed, all of the above, like the script, needed a more exacting B plan. Something everyone here is more than capable of doing.
Those who couldn’t try harder are a magnificent seven delivering something of an over the top joy. Nessa Matthew’s determined and duplicitous Red, Clodagh Mooney Duggan’s feisty and fearsome Bernadette, and Áine Ní Laoghaire’s psychotic and too cool for school, Síona, are a masterclass in what a good performer can do when given a weak script to work with. As is Aoife Spratt as the fiery and fierce Flossie. Amy Dunne as the ditzy Molly is a delight in her California dreaming, especially in the spotlight. As is a luminous Laura Brady as the coke loving Concepta, showing exquisite comic delivery. Ali Fox as Kitty is simply superb, finding, and balancing, both pathos and humour as a woman trapped in worlds she no longer wants to belong to. Indeed, Fox’s drunk routine and spaghetti eating scene are absolute joys, with Fox delivering a mesmerising performance throughout.
“The Roaring Banshees” by Peter McGann and John Morton, presented by Devious Theatre, runs at Smock Alley until August 31.
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