MAKING HISTORY

Date 8th November 2019
Society Helens Bay Players
Venue St Johns Church Hall, Helens Bay
Type of Production Play
Director Kevin Quin

Report

Author: Sheelagh Hobart

Written in 1988 by Brian Friel and premiered the same year in the Guildhall, Londonderry “Making History” is set in Ulster before and after the Battle of Kinsale and later in Rome. It is said that he wrote the piece to counterbalance his play “Translations” which was criticised for being too nationalist. The plot centres around Hugh O’Neill’s relationships with those around him and his inspiration came from the preface of Sean O’Faolain’s book – the Great O’Neill (which is thought to be ‘faulty history’). 

The simple black box set had a Coat of Arms hanging on one side of the stage and banner on the other side with vintage tables and chairs. After the interval the thicket near the Sperrins had nicely painted ‘country-side’ flats and a grassy knoll and, in the final scene set in the Rome apartment, with the coat-of arms sitting lazily on its side on the floor - all aspects of set looked authentic. Props such as silver wine challis’ and a water carrying bottle were also convincing. Costumes were well sourced and Lighting and Sound effects well handled by the HBP ‘experts’.

The smaller roles of sisters Mabel and Mary were played by Rosemary Jane Brangham and Lorraine Hunter in sympathetic manner. Mabel – daughter of Sir Henry Bagenal, one of the “new English” settlers in Ulster and rival of O’Neill – married the latter and converted to Catholicism. Rosemary Jane was mostly quiet and subdued but surprised us with her zeal when trying to dissuade her husband from going to war with England. Lorraine portrayed a rather sad character who was obviously missing her sister and was very opposed to O’Neill. She showed that Mary could be stubborn and show her distain of her sister’s husband. Johnnie Rea took the role of Hugh O’Donnell, Earl of Tyrconnell (Donegal) and brother-in-law and chief ally to O’Neill. With great energy, Johnnie portrayed the younger man who, naively confident, was rashly keen to fight a war. Harry Hoveden was credibly played by Robin Masefield. After sharing his home with O’Neill during his teenage years, Harry became his private secretary and doggedly supported him for the rest of his life. Robin showed the long-suffering affection Harry had for O’Neill in his patient manner. Noel Cornick – who was to take the role of His Grace Dr Peter Lombard, RC Archbishop of Armagh & Primate of all Ireland – unfortunately took ill a few days before curtain up, and his part was taken over by Peter la Grue. As a very experienced amateur actor, Peter brought the Archbishop to life in expert manner (somewhat reminiscent of Ian Paisley!). The play centres on him writing a biography on the life and times of Hugh O’Neill and their arguments about the glamourised approach he is taking rather than the “warts and all” wanted by O’Neill. (Apparently Lombard never wrote such a tract in real life). I was hardly aware of the fact that Peter was reading from the script – so sure was his acting.

Finally, Stephen Connelly’s portrayal of Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone, was a mighty tour-de-force. Starting gently as a rather love-sick and absentminded bridegroom, Stephen progressed through every possible mood, reminding us of his formative years in England under the wardship of Giles Hovenden and educated by Sir Henry Sidney at Penshurst. His allegiance changed from fighting on the English side in Munster to transferring his wealth and leadership to the Irish Rebellion. In the third act of the play O’Neill is informed of the death of his wife in childbirth and Stephen brought tears in the audience as he expressed his great dismay and sadness. Then in the final act when, having fled to Rome and reduced to living on a monthly allowance from the Pope, Stephen gave an electrifying performance as a man practically on the edge of sanity – mourning his cherished Mabel, helplessly seeing his biographer glamorising him into an Irish hero and sinking into defeat, exile and poverty. His was a performance worthy of any Shakespearean actor.

Kevin Quinn is to be congratulated for bravely stepping away from the Players usual fare of comedy and farce and directing such a substantial piece of theatre. Although Friel’s points of reference are apparently flawed, it certainly made me (and other audience members) think about the making of history.

My thanks to the Players for an excellent evening of theatre.

 

                                                                    Sheelagh Hobart

Noda Regional Representative for Ireland