Amongst Men Review
Jackie Hayden’s review of Amongst Men.
Thursday, April 6, 2023
It is timely that this play about the long-term hangover from the Irish Civil War is staged just when there is much celebration of the 25th anniversary of the now-fraught Good Friday Agreement. One might even speculate that while the latter might be unravelling, in some circumstances the Civil War goes on forever.
It’s 1969 and Áine, magnificently played by Noelle Brown, is an angry mother still fighting that war and living with her son Seán (Dylan Kennedy) who teaches at the local primary school. The school is governed by Father Connick (Arthur Riordan), a convincing throwback to the bullying power-wielding priest of yore whose disdain of the modern world is delivered with a typical “my way is the only way”, trampling on the views of anyone who opposes him including the likes of Áine. Into that fiery cauldron comes Goff the politician (Mark Lambert).
Áine did time in Cumann na mBan and holds to her beliefs in the face of all opposition. In her own way she’s as entrenched as the priest, while Goff is as pliable as the stereotypical opportunistic politician, bending in whatever direction suits him. Hearing that the priest wants to allow Goff to address Seán’s class of 10-year-olds Áine demands equal time, something to which Seán reluctantly agrees, landing himself in hot water with the priest who must be obeyed.
Given my own Catholic working-class upbringing I wasn’t convinced that her defiant use of foul language was acceptable in such quarters even at the end of the freewheeling sixties, but she had been independent enough to have had Sean out of wedlock.
The big question Eoghan Rua Finn’s gripping play pointedly asks is “when does any war end? Indeed, does it ever truly end?” Despite the somewhat stock characters, Finn’s dialogue demands your attention through every word and gesture, and Deirdre Dwyer’s taut direction deserves equal credit on that front. The Wexford Arts Centre audience gave it a much-deserved standing ovation.