‘Do a catholic play and you get a catholic audience’ the late George Byatt was wont to observe, although he did not specify whether he meant in a particular or a universal sense.
Martin McCardie’s ‘James Connolly, the Fight for Independence’ gives the impression of having this thought from its outset. The enigmatic Edinburgh citizen, has, of course, been subjected to dramatisation before, most notably perhaps in John Arden and Margareta D’Arcy’s ‘The Non-Stop Connelly Show’ an all but unperformable twenty four hour long detailed examination of Connolly’s life and times.
McCardie’s opus is a mercifully briefer undertaking, but what it may gain in brevity (though running over its stated performance time by a good twenty minutes, owing to being essentially a reading of a work still in rehearsal), it loses in both coherence and clarity.
Brian McCardie, who played Connolly in RTE’s ‘Revolution’, gives his interpretation of Connolly a credible Scots brogue, but his performance is in many ways hampered, not to say hobbled, by a script that for all its cut and paste extracts from Connolly’s own writings, appears to owe rather too much to Norah Connolly’s hagiographical account of her father.
Owing (presumably) to constraints of time, several salient facts are omitted – for instance, that the 1916 Rising owed its inception to the shelving of legislation that would have ensured federal government throughout the United Kingdom (‘Home Rule All Round’) on the outbreak of the First World War. The deaths of some two hundred Dublin citizens along with forty odd children during the week-long fighting enraged the city and it was only the unexpected and vengeful executions of Connolly and other leaders that began to swing opinion in an actively nationalist direction.
The above digression is meant to indicate both the shades of nuance that any play dealing with history and its subjects can never fully reach, but also to suggest the effort has nevertheless to be made.
With all his contradictions and because of the confusions that continue to envelop and obscure whoever the ‘real’ James Connolly may have been, Connolly deserves reinterpretation in dramatic terms. Unfortunately, ‘James Connolly, the Fight for Independence’ is content to preserve the legend.
26 March only