1981, Everyman Palace, Cork

THIS one-man show written and performed by Tony Devlin of Brassneck Theatre Company is about the 1981 hunger strikes in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh in which 10 republican men died in their struggle for political status.

Devlin’s performance is impressive in its physicality. He portrays everything from RUC interrogations to the heartbroken wife of a prisoner visiting her husband in gaol for the last time. But Devlin’s material lacks substance.

It is a superficial treatment of the lives of these young determined men whose brute politicisation resulted in them joining the IRA. While Bobby Sands had global fame, this play seeks to bring to life all 10 of the hunger strikers.

But instead of creating a drama, Devlin simply documents the circumstances of the men before they were imprisoned. An overview of the men is the lasting impression of this play. And it is repetitive.

After each man dies, a musician sings ballads, each of which references the men. Grainy footage of funerals is projected onto the stark brick wall of the stage. Photographs of the men are also projected as well as the age that they died at and the amount of days they were on hunger strike. What is striking is just how young they look, all dying in their twenties.

The attempts at humour have a tendency to appeal to a Northern Irish sensibility. What is noteworthy about this show is Devlin’s passion. He uses lines from WB Yeats’s poem, ‘The King’s Threshold’ referring to the ancient Irish tradition of hunger strikes by commoners against people of higher social status. Devlin references Terence MacSwiney’s death by hunger strike among other historical figures.

It is a grisly and pitiful business.


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