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  • Chris O'Rourke

The Rising of the Moon

Oisín Thompson and Michael Tient in The Rising of the Moon. Image by Al Craig


If you were baffled by the exclusion of Lady Gregory from The Abbey’s 2024 programme named in her honour, after five minutes of Bewley’s Café Theatre’s production of Gregory’s The Rising of the Moon, first produced in 1907, you’ll be positively incensed. This early play by the Godmother of Irish theatre holding up remarkably well over a century later. Granted, at little over forty minutes it’s short and sweet, as are many of Gregory’s plays. But The Rising of the Moon is richly loaded, both historically and currently, whilst also being a tidily crafted one act play. Yet trying to honour its past and give it present relevance director Eoghan Carrick delivers up a pyrrhic victory in trying to serve two masters at once. In which many outstanding moments suffer on account of being caught between incompatible frames.

Narratively, The Rising of the Moon is simplicity itself. A lone police Sergeant chasing a wanted fugitive waits at the harbour undercover of night in case he tries to escape by boat. Questioning an indigent ballad singer, an unlikely relationship is struck up culminating in a crucial choice being made. No prizes for guessing much hinges on the possible identity of the ballad singer. If references to a one hundred pound reward and to ballads being sold by beggars highlight a historical context, they give credence to notions of duty and of duty to a greater cause that inform the play, reflecting the lived experience of many in Ireland at the beginning of the twentieth century. A tension vividly recounted in many recent productions remembering the Civil War of 1922. Yet such historic references frequently date proceedings. More so given Toni Bailey’s contemporary costumes which make for an odd, visual juxtaposition, making the plays dated references stick out like a sore thumb.

Molly Whelan and Michael Tient in The Rising of the Moon. Image by Al Craig

A discrepancy which impacts on performances, where explosive outbursts are counterpointed by flat, quieter moments in which Carrick often leaves his cast to play the line rather than the character in the scene. Molly Whelan’s frightened Police Officer, using her torch upon entry to terrific effect, a funny sidekick to Michael Tient’s bombastic Sergeant. Tient’s commanding presence and authority undermined by exaggerated outbursts. Oisin Thompson’s ballad singer also hitting too many unnecessary high notes, being best when understated or letting his impressive singing do the work. None of which is helped by Fiona Shiel’s sound design. A looped, rhythmic droning that tries accentuate a sense of menace only to reinforce a ponderously plodding, repetitive pace. Atmosphere and mood best conjured by Chryzsi Chatzivasileiou’s superb chiaroscuro set conveying a midnight grey harbour wall, illuminated beautifully by Eoin Winning’s lights. The gifted Chatzivasileiou signalling she is a major talent on the rise.

Had Carrick told the historical tale it might well have packed a more forceful punch. Similarly if the script’s dated references had been updated. As it is, The Rising of the Moon falls into a No Man’s Land in which both sides fight hard only to achieve a standoff, or a stalemate. Sometimes you have to choose a side. Which, ironically, is one of the central points of the The Rising of the Moon.

The Rising of the Moon by Lady Augusta Gregory runs at Bewley’s Café Theatre until April 6.

For more information visit Bewley’s Café Theatre


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