Theatre review - The Train

Abbey Theatre, Dublin

It’s 1971, and the term “kicking against the pricks” has rarely been more literal. Ireland is doing a fine impression of being the Iran of the north Atlantic, and Irish women have had enough of their status as second-class citizens denied privacy and bodily autonomy.

In a fine piece of symbolic protest, a group led by the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement hopped a train to Belfast to purchase some of the contraceptives banned in the priest-ridden Republic, daring, on their return, the customs officials to enforce the ridiculous ban.

In Arthur Riordan and Bill Whelan’s musical, directed by Lynne Parker, the contraceptive train is cast as an early feminist step towards a more secular and humane society.

The women are on a mission, and, while their statement was certainly dramatic, there’s not a whole lot to tell in the lead-up to it.

Perhaps this is why Whelan’s music often stridently propels the action; sadly, it’s at its least pleasing when it does so.

But, in general, The Train succeeds by creating space for satire and social comedy, while Parker modulates the tone to allow for reminders of the seriousness of what was at stake: discrimination both social and legal, and “the nightmare of unremitting pregnancy”, as Nuala Fennell called it.

Serious stuff indeed, but that doesn’t mean the Catholic Church should not be lampooned at every given opportunity.

Riordan’s structure alternates between the women’s story and the metaphorical journey of Adam and Aoife — an archetypal couple symbolising a nation’s growing pains. They are delightfully played by Clare Barrett and a goofy Louis Lovett. It’s always funny, but feels like a succession of digressions rather than fully integrated with the rest of the show.

A final tableau, though, brings everything together and culminates with an explicit reference to the campaign to repeal another theocratic vestige, the Eighth Amendment — a reminder of battles still being fought.

Alan O’Riordan

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