Tom Barry isn’t a name that many people immediately associate with the Irish War of Independence. However, Guerilla Days in Ireland seeks to change that.
Neil Pearson’s play, adapted for stage from Barry’s own memoirs, tells the story of the man who became the Commander of the 3rd West Cork Flying Column at only twenty-three years of age, and a founding father of guerrilla warfare in Ireland. The result is a dark and atmospheric production that combines stellar acting with a stunning and minimalist set that captures both the futility and vigour of war.
Pearson’s play charts the War of Independence through the eyes of both the young and the old Tom Barry. Brian Fenton is superb as the young Barry, and he and David O’Meara as the older Barry bounce off each-other constantly, and inform each other’s performances. When emotions run at their highest, they speak directly to each other, the elder informing the younger’s actions, and encouraging him to remember the seriousness of each lost life.
Fenton and O’Meara carry the play on the power and strength of their performances, which rely on and borrow from each other to create a defining idea of the character of Tom Barry. They are joined by Matthew O’Brien and Jack Walsh in a cast of only four men that succeeds in playing over twenty characters.
Their acting is brought to life by dark, introspective lighting and unnerving, ghost-like set design. The lighting veers from dark blue to searing red in a moment, and the flashing, probing lights are a constant source of adrenaline in what is a fast-paced production. This is accompanied by a muted, minimalist set design that is invigorated by the presence of ghostly, angular human-like figures draped in cloth for the entirety of the play. At varying points they have different items of clothing draped over them, as a subtle reminder of the sadness of the passing of each human life.
Often loud and violent, Pearson’s vision is a specifically Irish one that occasionally romanticises war and views death as an act of patriotism. The first act deepens this romantic vision, while the finale leaves the audience filled with questions on what the meaning of the Irish War of Independence truly was; indeed, this may have been Pearson’s vision in crafting this story for the stage, and if so, it is a vision that is startlingly successful at evoking mixed feelings in its viewers. Concluding at the beginning of the Civil War, it serves as a reflection on the futility of war, and the pointlessness of each lost life.
Guerilla Days in Ireland is a play that succeeds as both a story of the man and of the war. Filled with adrenaline-fuelled performances from its cast of four men and accompanied by technical excellence, this is certainly a play to see during its run at The Olympia Theatre. While it occasionally suffers from timing issues, Guerilla Days in Ireland is a triumph that thrives on the abilities of its performers and its superb technical team.
Guerilla Days in Ireland runs at The Olympia Theatre until 31st August 2014. Tickets are available from €25.