Review: A Terrible Beauty: Echoes of 1916 at DIT Conservatory of Music and Drama,Rathmines

By Shane Brothwood

There’s the real history of the world, and then there’s the version of the history presented to us. One main feature of the second category is its male driven narrative. Men claim history and then end up shaping it.

Hearing how women are edited out of the story discredits and dishonours the various contributions they have made in the course of human history. The history of the 1916 Rising is no different.

Thankfully, A Terrible Beauty: Echoes of Easter 1916, a rehearsed reading performed by 1st Year Drama students of DIT Conservatory of Music and Drama and directed by Mary Moynihan,  explores the role of women in the 1916 Rising.

Performed through a combination of poems, readings, songs and play scenes – it packs the heart and soul of a revolution into 90 mins.

The stage was bare and the audience small, but the production had a huge heart.

It began with a witness statement by Helena Malone (Ashlyn O’Neill), capturing the the opening phases of the Rising.

O’Neill’s authentic Dublin prose believably  captures  the moment Sean Connolly shot the police officer at Dublin Castle. She also immerses you into the world of the female rebels.

The next witness statementDoing My Bit by Margaret Skinnider (Caitriona Williams), explored women taking charge of their destiny during the Rising. 

The account looked at how women saw fighting as a way to gain equal status to men. Margaret fights in the Rising and even takes a bullet.

Williams’ ability to create an off-screen space without props was utterly brilliant. She was very natural; passionate without being hammy, and engaging with the audience by naturally making eye contact.

The performance of a scene in Plough in the Stars by Sean OCasey showed the mixed pubic opinion of the Rising.

This is indicated through three Dublin women; Ms Gogan (Ashlyn O’Neill) who is for the revolution, Nora (Caitriona Willimaswho is conflicted because her husband is fighting with the rebels, and Bessie (Laura Dempsey) who views the rebels as scum. 

Eventually the public supported the rebels when they heard that the leaders had been executed. 

The female perspective does not feel forced for the sake of equality, but adds to the narrative in an authentic and unique way

Even more fascinating is Kathleen and Madelinebased on the witness statements of Kathleen Lynn (Claire Gleeson) and Madeline French Mullen (Sarah Wiley).

It looks at the relationship of two lesbian rebels caught up in the Rising. They discuss how that when the rising is done, they will be able to openly declare their relationship because of the Proclamation’s promise of equality for all.

However this never happened.  When Ireland became a Free State in 1922, much of the socialist ideals of the Proclamation were replaced by a restrictive set of Catholic guidelines.

Men and women could not have sex without marryingand LGBT relationships were out of the question – a powerful reminder of promises made by modern day leaders and politicians which are never carried out.


The cast of A Terrible Beauty
The Female Cast Members (L-R) Back Row:Carla Ryan, Claire Gleeson Ashlyn O’ Neill, Sarah Wiley
Front Row: Laura Dempsey, Caitriona Williams

The male role in the Rising was not ignored.

The Rebels skit featured two rebels Seamus (Antoin Gorman and Conor John Ryan) providing a good dose of comic relief.

They made an analogy about the geographical divisions of Ireland through  Jacob’s biscuits – the four corners of the Mikado representing the provinces and the point where you split the Fig Roll in half,  the North and South.

The Surrender at Jacobs Biscuit Factory was the most poetic piece. It showed the brave sacrifice of Thomas MacDonagh (Roger Mc Carrick) when he surrendered in order to spare the lives of fellow rebels.

It’s full of raw  emotion and  eloquently  captures the destruction of Dublin through the eyes of Maire Nic Shuibhalaigh (Carla Ryan)

The Joe and Grace piece, depicting the relationship between Joseph Plunkett (Jack Covaliero) and his wife Grace (Carla Ryan) was too cheesy. 

Ifeel, at times, that the events which actually took place were somehow unrealistic.

The songs were the only other bad choice of the production. With the exception of the Foggy Dew, which was overflowing with authentic tragedy and sorrow, the rest of the songs sounded like something from a Disney Movie

What made this production was its humour, heart and integrity. It rarely felt constructed or artificial. The inclusion of women was not just to promote equality, but to display a vital slice of Irish history.

Rating: 4/5

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