Mary Murray in Fishamble's Outrage by Deirdre Kinahan. Image by Leo Byrne and Publicis
There's outrage and then there's outrage. The first occurs when we witness the invasion of Ukraine, Iris Robinsons's homophobic comments, George Floyd's murder, or former friends turning on each other during a civil war. The second when our favourite contestant fails to win Dancing with the Stars, or the villainous wrestler wins WWE. If Deirdre Kinahan's latest play, Outrage, initially evokes the former, it overplays its hand to land somewhere closer to the latter. Delivering a tidied ending that both diminishes Outrage and its sense of outrage at the atrocities committed by former friends during the Irish Civil War. Atrocities which make the Black and Tans look like evil lightweights. Even so, if Outrage stumbles at the intellectual hurdles, there's a large audience for its too-ra-loo-ra, rebel song, thriller view of history. And that audience are very well served indeed. As are lovers of strong performances and top class direction.
Naoise Dunbar, Mary Murray & Caitríona Ennis in Fishamble's Outrage by Deirdre Kinahan. Image by Pat Redmond
Less Countess Markievicz so much as Maeve Binchy, Outrage's semi-fictional tale delivers a hurried sweep through Irish history viewed through an Oirish frame. Touching on the War of Independence, the Truce, Treaty negotiations, the Civil War, and ending in a post-treaty Chicago. Throughout, sisters Nell and Alice fight for truth, justice and the new Irish way. Having to decide what that way might be following problematic treaty negotiations. Against the advice of PJ, Alice's lover and fighter husband, they choose the anti-treaty side and set about turning Kells, Co. Meath into a hotbed of rebellion. But the newly elected Irish government and its army is made up of former friends and fellow fighters. Who know all the tricks and hiding places. And when the reckoning comes, the outrage at the hidden history during the early days of the Irish Free State is palpable. Then diminished as Kinahan conflates that outrage with another outrageous act to hammer home the point. Which, even as a metaphor, feels like oversell, or a deliberate attempt to push the emotional buttons. Shifting focus from the bigger political questions onto a lascivious villain.
Caitríona Ennis & Naoise Dunbar in Fishamble's Outrage by Deirdre Kinahan. Image by Pat Redmond
Like A Star Called Henry, Outrage makes accessible the period of political unrest during the 1920s. But where Roddy Doyle expanded his tale into a trilogy, Kinahan compresses her story, and history, into too tight a space. Less History Channel so much as Hallmark Channel, the political soon comes to serve as a backdrop for the personal. Yet it's in the personal that Kinahan thrives. There her language loses its expositional, contemporary judgemental clunkiness and flows with ease, capturing people in fleeting moments to show us their entirety. Nell might dress like Countess Markievicz, Catherine Fay's costumes capturing the period perfectly, strutting in rage like a bomb with its fuse lit, but Kinahan knows how to make her smile, to give her heart. It's a tightrope walk, but in the hands of Mary Murray, Nell is brilliantly rendered. One minute effacing any trace of joy, the next melting your heart with a smile from the bottom of her soul, revealing the humanity behind her political rage.
Caitríona Ennis, Naoise Dunbar & Mary Murray in Fishamble's Outrage by Deirdre Kinahan. Image by Pat Redmond
Caitríona Ennis' Alice, the emotional yin to Nell's political yang, proves equally captivating as the red headed cailín. Close to becoming a sacrificial trope, Alice is made utterly beguiling as Ennis slouches seductively, pops pencils in her hair, jitters with nervousness, moving always with the grace and fluency of a dancer. A writer who doesn't want marriage, Alice finds herself married to Naoise Dunbar's pitch perfect PJ. A man fighting for peace, so gooder than good he'd settle for peace at any price. The relatively new Dunbar holding his own with the seasoned pros, often eclipsing them, only momentarily of course. But on the evidence of this beautifully balanced performance, Dunbar is a serious talent on the rise. Throughout, director Jim Culleton choreographs the space beautifully, elevating the experience into something genuinely powerful. Eliciting three strong and sensitive performances in Maree Kearns traverse set, sensitively lit by Kevin Smith.
While The Pumphouse is forever haunted by the ghosts of the IRA, it's a space that will be forever haunted by ANU's extraordinary The Book of Names. Outrage might look like a distant cousin, but it shares similar concerns about the same history. Opening with Alice writing propaganda for The Irish Bulletin, describing British atrocities agains the Irish, its true concern is the Irish government's atrocities against its own citizens following the introduction of the Irish Free State. A harrowing tale whitewashed out of history that needs to be addressed. Outrage's mix of well made play and storytelling theatre starts an important conversation. Finding its moment of outrage in the process and making for a memorable night of theatre. Its three star script delivering a four star experience, courtesy of five star directing and performances.
Outrage by Deirdre Kinahan, directed by Jim Culleton, presented by Fishamble:The New Play Company, runs at The Pumphouse until April 3.
Available online April 14 - 23.
For more information, visit Fishamble:The New Play Company