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Tron Theatre, Glasgow

Four stars

When ten young Irish lads from Achill were burnt to death in Kirkintilloch in 1937 in the bothy they were staying in while working as potato pickers, while the boys were honoured in their homeland, in Scotland the tragedy is barely known. Muireann Kelly and Frances Poet’s new play for Theatre Gu Leor unearths the story in a way that puts flesh and blood on its bare bones for a modern telling that resonates for a younger generation.

This is done through the figure of Michael, a latter-day Glasgow teenager the same age as the Achill boys and the offspring of Gaelic-speaking parents. Through a school history project, Michael dreams his way into a timeslip where he walks among the migrant workers, but is only seen by Molly, a young Irish woman who is closer to him than he knows. Through bearing witness in this way, Michael becomes alive to his own heritage, laying some old ghosts to rest along the way.

Kelly’s production is a brooding hybrid of theatrical forms played out on Charlotte Lane’s multi-dimensional and at times spectral-looking set. Performed in Irish and Scots Gaelic as well as English by Kelly’s cast of eight, it mixes text with song, dance and Laoise Kelly’s live bagpipe score played by Alana MacInnes, and which moves between ceilidh and lament as it illustrates latter-day prejudices against migrant workers.  

As Michael, Ryan Hunter is a dynamic presence, whose teenage truculence is enlightened by the presence of Molly, brought movingly to life by Faoileann Cunningham.

At the play’s heart is something that is part excavation of hidden history, part elegy to long-harboured secrets. For Michael, especially, the pilgrimage he ends up embarking on is also a rites of passage that causes him to find himself in a way he never imagined, but which was deep within him all along. 

The Herald, September 17th 2018
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