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  • Chris O'Rourke

The Making of Mollie

Niamh McAllister and Ashleigh Dorrell in The Making of Mollie. Image by Ros Kavanagh


Stories for children. Once a once upon a time of carefree summers. Gambolling through the countryside solving mysteries with friends. Or befriending freakish grumps with hearts of gold who share your innocent loneliness. Free from responsibility, from political, philosophical or existential angst, the only pains endured were those of coming of age. Writers like Enid Blyton and Laura Ingalls Wilder offering adult versions of the ideal childhood. So too Anna Carey with her didactic The Making of Mollie, despite its overt political overtones. Its tale of suffragettes aimed at contemporary eight year olds or older. Many of whom won’t be able to spell suffragette let alone understand what it means. Throw in Fenian rebels, Home Rule and the force feeding of women hunger strikers and it quickly becomes clear even the most precocious young child will need help with this tale for children.

Designed to entertain, educate and prepare the next generation for political activism, The Making of Mollie conceals a multitude of sins under its comic stylings. Set in Dublin in 1912, Mollie, a fourteen year old straight from the Pippi Longstocking school of fourteen year olds, hates her brother, likes chicken legs, playing with chalk and with her best friend Nora. Both refusing to play second fiddle to boys. Just like Mollie's older sister Phyllis, who’s become very mysterious recently, sneaking out through the window so her parents can’t see her. All standard children’s story fare until Mollie follows Phyllis to a suffragette meeting and hears a woman speak on votes for women. Politically enlightened, Mollie decides she too must become a suffragette, along with Nora, who undertake modest adventures like secret agents despite Phyllis's protestations. Their guerrilla warfare soon escalating from writing songs and messages in chalk to breaking the law by defacing post boxes. Paving the way for the many who soon follow.

The Making of Mollie. Image by Ros Kavanagh

Adapted from her historical novel of the same name, The Making of Mollie is proof positive that writing for the page doesn’t always translate easily to the stage. Carey’s overwrought language and undercooked structure emphasising politics over character. Lecturing overtones and laboured points ensure zoning out is a constant risk for young or old. Fortunately, a stellar cast and first rate direction salvage proceedings, and if they can’t save Carey’s tale from being dramatically weak, they rescue it theatrically at least. Beginning with Rowan Finken as the juggling good boy, and apple of Mollie’s eye Frank. Best friend to the irresistible Ian Toner’s Harry, the spoilt big brother enjoying bratty tantrums, male privilege and making his sister's lives miserable. Including his older sister Phyllis, a hard working Eyum Pricilla getting few breaks playing parental straight person to her childishly comic siblings. Playfulness capitalised on by a superb Ashleigh Dorrell as the magnificent Mollie, rendering Mollie lifelike and likeable from a flimsy pretext and a collection of cliches. Accompanied by the scene stealing revelation that is Niamh McAllister as her best friend Nora. Under Sarah Baxter’s confident direction all parade around like demented presenters in a Seventies children’s show, relying on high jinx, high energy and physical exaggerations to tell their story. Set against Deirdre Dwyer’s sign-post set evoking turn of the century Dublin, along with Laura Ingalls Wilder styled period costumes. Elevating Carey’s lacklustre offering into a theatrical treat of more than modest proportions.

If fourteen was quite a grown up age in 1912 it’s impossible to tell as Mollie and Nora usually behave like four year olds. Even so, allowing that The Making of Mollie should prompt adult/child discussion, there’s enough to suggest greater maturity than eight years old is advisable. Votes for women might be a thematic safe bet, but a quick look at Dublin’s streets reveals protest has an ugly side. One person’s activist is often another person’s racist, fascist or populist. What made Mollie can make monsters too. Not that you’d ever know it here.

The Making of Mollie by Anna Carey runs at The Ark Centre until March 16,

For more information visit The Ark.


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