Audiences could be forgiven on Friday night for thinking they'd stumbled into Liberty Hall for real at the opening main stage production of this year's Mayfesto mini-season of politically driven theatre. The speak-easy vibe that punctuates Brian McCardie's searingly intense solo turn as James Connolly, the Edinburgh-born icon of the Easter Rising, when Ireland's free-thinking would-be liberators rose up against English rule a hundred years ago, may have been distracting, but it couldn't take away from the slow-burning power behind McCardie's performance in this self-penned piece.
The evening opened with three songs by singer Maeve Mackinnon accompanied by guitarists Fraser Spiers and the show's co-producer for the Fair Pley company in association with trade union Unite, Stephen Wright. After this, McCardie addressed the audience as if they were volunteers poised for battle. Beyond the low-key but impassioned rhetoric, Connolly gradually opens up, and by the time he's in Dublin's GPO building he's revealed a man who saw poverty first hand, and who stutters over the word 'capitalism' in a way that fires his inner socialist drive.
McCardie may be up there on his own, but there's an expanse to his director brother Martin McCardie's production that goes beyond the physical. The play still needs work in terms of shape and structure, and there are moments when McCardie's delivery is too insular to fully deliver, but there's a strength too to such quiet vulnerability. The near Beckettian bleakness which permeates the play's final third as Connolly sits in his striped prison cell pyjamas awaiting the firing squad is a damning image of how the establishment continues to brutalise dissent in a soon to be breathtaking piece of work.
The Herald, May 10th 2016