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Could only mean the Catholic church : No Escape


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Could only mean the Catholic church : No Escape

Description: Is it possible for a piece of theatre to adequately represent the scale of damage perpetrated by the Catholic Church in 20th-c

Keywords: IRELAND

Category: 8

Body text:

No Escape

 
Peacock Theatre, Dublin

Is it possible for a piece of theatre to adequately represent the scale of damage perpetrated by the Catholic Church in 20th-century Ireland? How can the extent of the social dysfunction that allowed it happen be given metaphorical form?

Indeed, is it possible for any actor to give us something as moving, as cathartic as Michael O’Brien’s confession on Questions and Answers in May 2009, when, as one of the thousands of victims of the church, he finally got a chance to have his experience validated and believed. The sickening facts of history in the case of the Commission to Inquire Into Child Abuse are far more brutal than any fiction might help us understand.

It is with this proviso that No Escape , a piece of documentary theatre based on the Ryan Report, attempts to take account of the monumental failing of Church and State in 20th-century Ireland. Compiled and edited by Mary Raftery, a journalist whose voice has been so crucial in providing us with the facts over the last 20 years, it is a 90-minute litany of terror and violence; a catalogue of physical and psychological brutalities and the weapons used to administer the punishments that were real crime.

The event (despite Raftery’s best efforts, No Escape cannot quite be called a play) is presided over by Justice Séan Ryan (Lorcan Cranitch), who enters through the audience to author and guide us through the facts that determined the “climate of fear” that stifled the lives of the 1,009 witnesses of abuse who contributed to the five-volume report. Six other actors channel the voices of those who gave evidence: the vulnerable survivors barely able to put voice to their lost childhoods; the priests who indignantly refused to admit their wrongdoing and the occ- asional one who was prepared to own up to his sins; the lawyers who colluded in the cover-up and those who fearlessly persisted in exposing the truth.

The real shock of No Escape , however, is not the facts or figures themselves, but the fact that, despite the real emotion in the actor’s performances, the overall effect is so clinical. Is it that the scale of the abuse is so overwhelming that we are desensitised to its effects? Róisín McBrinn’s careful staging, in which the details of violence are narrated through a microphone, suggests so. As the production bombards us with statistics, with maps and dates, and documents displayed as if to remind us of the concrete proof, we are pushed further and further from the thousands of individual human truths that connect us to this dark story of our nation’s past.

And yet as we catch a glimpse of ourselves in the reflective surfaces of Alyson Cummin’s perspex set – which creates individual prisons for each of the victims in the production’s opening and an ironic comment on transparency as the evidence unfolds – we are implicated in this horror, even as we are alienated from the history unfolding on stage. The standing ovation on opening night was not merely appreciative theatrical applause, it was an act of social confirmation.

Runs until April 24th 
 
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