top of page
  • Chris O'Rourke

Children of the Sun

Children of the Sun by Hilary Fannin after Gorky. Image Ros Kavanagh


Each of these things is a lot like the others. Persians. The Pull of the Stars. Hate F%#k. Slippery When Wet. Unhooked. Audrey or Sorrow. The Making of Mollie. Happiness Then. Bunny Bunny. Gammy. Each a show that played in Dublin during the past two months. All written by women. Most directed by women. A list that does not include dead women writers like Lady Gregory whose The Rising of the Moon also played recently. Nor upcoming shows by women writers, including two from Fishamble and one from Glass Mask. Nor Landmark Production’s Theatre for One which this year selected solely women writers. Six no less. Nor Children of the Sun by Hilary Fannin after Gorky, directed by Lynne Parker. The Abbey’s latest addition to The Gregory Project, its year long season exclusively promoting women writers. You can’t ignore the naked empress here, making a mockery of claims of gender equality in Irish theatre. True, the award winning delight that is Tom Moran’s Tom Moran Is A Big Fat Filthy Disgusting Liar is the next production at The Peacock. But that’s the exception that proves the rule. Disagree? Read this paragraph again.

Rebecca O'Mara and Aislín McGuckin in Children of the Sun by Hilary Fannin after Gorky. Image Ros Kavanagh

No one wins when bias operates. Including Fannin, as some will dismiss Children of the Sun’s staging as a product of her gender rather than her talent. Especially as Gorky’s play has never been considered all that great, let alone a classic, since first produced in Russia in 1905. Its tale of a privileged elite oblivious to the social unrest surrounding them sending shockwaves through revolution primed Moscow. But such a dismissal would be grossly unfair as, in Act One, Fannin crafts one of the smartest, funniest social commentaries of recent times, up there with Sonya Kelly’s The Last Return. Landlords, love, class and art, and theories of the nature of the universe are playfully pitted against each other as one family’s self-indulgence lends them current resonance. If only it didn’t take a hand brake turn in Act Two. Careening through its own frame into a post-modern cartoon. All to labour a point it had already beautifully made.

Fiona Bell and Evan Gaffney in Children of the Sun by Hilary Fannin after Gorky. Image Ros Kavanagh

Not that the cartoonish is ever far away. Mel Mercier’s stunning sound design opening with the rapid clinking of clocks evokes a cluster of March Hares rushing by. Act One less Chekhov so much as a Kardashians spin off set in Downton Abbey. Sarah Bacon’s layered set reinforcing the opulence of a cultured Russian family falling on hard times. Who deal in distractions like a family from a Seventies sitcom. Time, space, and other dimensions a source of fascination for the Mammy's Boy Daddy Protasov, a conflict avoiding, sexually fearful dreamer. Stuart Graham delighting as the gormless scientist who both repels and attracts women. His long suffering wife Elena, a terrific Aislín McGuckin, highlighting that it may be a man’s world, but women, like mothers, carry the burden. None more than the vivacious widow Melania, an equally vivacious Fiona Bell stealing each scene, along with stage, props and scenery with a howlingly brilliant performance as a woman suffering platonic lust for a poetic soul. Bell’s gestures, tones and barking a comic masterclass. Rebecca O’Mara’s Lisa also hilarious pre intermission, if curiously positioned after. Like a petulant online warrior Lisa initially spouts about red earth whilst refusing to step outside, undermining her lurking, shadowed witnessing of the twentieth century in Act Two. Mirroring Eavan Gaffney’s skulking, worldly wise, orally fixated maid observing the family who fiddles while Moscow burns.

Rebecca O'Mara in Children of the Sun by Hilary Fannin after Gorky. Image Ros Kavanagh

Following the mandatory catch up at the bar at intermission, signs of opulence are erased for Act Two. The stage bare of props, the distant past replaced by events nearer to hand crackling through radio broadcasts. A modern Protasov grinding action to a lecturing pace as we suffer a monologue by a manacled madman in modern attire. His musings marginally more rational, and far less interesting, than Ronan Finken’s Misha monologue, a son of a Russian oligarch looking to buy a football club. The obvious references coming hard and fast as Mercier’s radio soundbites whisk us through the twentieth century. Paranoia by Black Sabbath, The Model by Kraftwerk, iconic newspaper reports and references to Erica Jong’s seminal novel Fear of Flying speaking of change. Ensuring the obvious hits you on the nose as if a banner were hung off the side of Liberty Hall. Taking us through questionable affairs, open marriages, all the way back to Russia to indict Gorky, here reduced to his failings. Rory Nolan as the vet come national treasure stepping in last moment for Brian Doherty, who returns later in the run, proving sensational.

Colin Campbell in Children of the Sun by Hilary Fannin after Gorky. Image Ros Kavanagh

Like Colin Campbell’s beggarly Troshin, sitting in rags with his dignified teacup, Fannin is often heavy handed in hammering home her points. The twentieth century flurrying past though everything stayed the same an idea we’d already gathered from the genius of Act One. Aided by the genius of Lynne Parker’s sensuous direction, a composition of colour and movement. But less obvious perhaps are two barbed points. Firstly, for all its commentary exploring a larger social context, Children of the Sun itself exists in a larger social context. One in which being pro-gender equality doesn’t mean you’re anti-feminist. It means a level playing field. Gender equality is not about the standard of work, which here is exceptional at times, but about having fair and equal access to opportunity and support. Secondly, isn't art just repeating the same old song? Children of the Sun’s overt commentary seeing the hilarious John Cronin as photographer Vagin spouting diatribes on art’s many phases. Meanwhile his camera records for posterity, or social media, Ian Toner’s swaggering, insecure man assaulting a defenceless maid. Art looking on, making for secondhand, second rate commentary. Making voyeurs of us all. Viewing artistic interrogations of the world’s horrors through a privileged, aesthetic frame. From the comfort of a theatre seat. Life's lyrics reimagined one hundred and twenty years later, but the song remaining the same. "Progress. To what?" Which brings us back to gender.

Children of the Sun, by Hilary Fannin after Gorky, a Rough Magic and Abbey Theatre co-production, runs at The Abbey Theatre until May 11

For more information visit The Abbey Theatre


Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
bottom of page