THE BEST MAN – A PLAY BY FRANK ALLEN

A review

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 2 mins.)

Kevin O’Higgins, Minister of the Free State, signed the execution order of his former close friend and the Best Man at his wedding, Rory O’Connor, who led Irish Republicans in the occupation of the Four Courts in 1922 in opposition to the Anglo-Irish Treaty.

The historical and ironical reality is the basis for Frank Allen’s play The Best Man, showing until the 10th in the theatre in the Teachers Club, Dublin.

BRENDAN AS BORSTAL BOY

Before the play begins the audience is treated to a short performance by Brendan O’Neill of his portrayal of Brendan Behan from Borstal Boy and the Republican’s return to Ireland after his release from jail. O’Neill has family connections to his subject and has researched him too.

It’s an enjoyable performance and an interesting peek into what is or will become a full play, set already to tour Canada. One wonders whether Canadian society, reputed to be somewhat staid, is ready for Behan on stage.

THE BEST MAN PLAY

Glen Gannon’s direction makes best use of the small stage, adapting it with minimal changes to serve different scenes, while a piano recording of two well-known airs are employed for the same purpose. Elaine sings verses of The Foggy Dew beautifully.

There are four characters who take to the stage: Rory O’Connor (Alan O’Brien), Kevin O’Higgins (Kevin Brennan), ‘Birdie’ (Elaine O’Dea) and Lady Lavery (Niamh Large).

All of the parts are well-written and acted. For dramatic impact however, it is those of Rory O’Connor and Lady Lavery which are the strongest and both O’Brien and Large make the most of them, each dominating their respective scenes.

Searching for information online about ‘Birdy’, O’Higgins’ wife, for this review has been frustrating, with numerous commentaries on O’Higgins not even mentioning her name.

From information supplied by Frank Allen, Birdie was called Brigid Cole and she was an English teacher who taught in Knockbeg College in Carlow. Gearóid O’Sullivan taught there too.

“Birdy”, is brought to life in this play and given expression in moments of humanitarian passion in conflict with her husband Kevin, whose own most powerful moments are expressed in anger and angst during the Civil War, though his interactions with Lavery display passion of a different kind.

HISTORY

In history, Lady Lavery has been associated with Irish cultural interests and romantically with Collins but letters to her from O’Higgins reveal that Michael was not the only Irish fish in her net. Her image, in an Irish shawl, was to grace the Irish Sterling pound note. Suspicions that she was an MI5 agent are unproven but remain..

There may be some legal argument about some of the execution orders of Republicans signed by O’Higgins, though all are regarded by Republicans today as judicial murder.

There can be no argument however about the criminal nature of the executions of O’Connor, McKelvey, Barrett and Mellowes, executed by cabinet executive order in reprisal for a killing that took place while they were in jail and in which they played no part.

It hardly seems possible to view the ideological conflict around the Anglo-Irish Treaty without thinking about another Agreement closer to us in time; as we come up to the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement we can reflect on the lack of closure of each.

I have no hesitation in recommending a viewing but haste – only three nights remain.

Reference

O’Higgins, Kevin Christopher | Dictionary of Irish Biography (dib.ie)

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