Set during a time when Dublin’s working class were ensnared by chronic poverty, Ann Matthews’ Lockout offers a revisionist perspective on the role of women during the 1913 Dublin Lockout. Like the Abbey Theatre’s 2010 production of John Gabriel Borkman- Frank McGuinness’ version of Ibsen’s play about a corrupt and ruthless banker- Lockout also presents an allegory for events in contemporary Ireland.
Right from the opening, the tone and mood of Lockout is distinctly macabre and elegiac, made all the more so by a melancholic overture, performed live, downstage left, by a violinist. Standing, down centre, by a candle- lit table, we are introduced to Ellen Byrne, played by Alison Fitzpatrick, who is grieving the recent loss of a loved one, whose presence is marked by a coffin that lies, up centre, across a row of chairs.
Monologue- driven, the character of Ellen is the personification of the hearty, inner city Dub and dweller of- in her words- a “respectable tenement”. Writer Ann Matthews understands that in order to have darkness a play must also have light and Ellen’s monologue is peppered with witty turns of phrase (“A penny lookin’ down on two ha’pennys”) that are uniquely Dublinesque. Unfortunately, some- though not all- of these crafty witticisms are lost on an audience that has been strongly impressed by the overpowering atmosphere of grief and mortality that hangs in the air, stifling any comedic possibilities. Soon after, however, the audience moves on from their initial response to the gloomy stage atmosphere and the dimensions to Ellen’s character begin to seem more rounded and defined.
Further putting the social and political strife of the period in context, Liverpool- born James Larkin (Ian Meehan) and Glasgow- born James Connolly (Patrick O’Donnell) stand on stage left and stage right, respectively, at varying times throughout the 50 minute production. The strong accents of both Larkin and Connolly- two thirds of the co- founders of the Labour Party- neutralize the setting, mildly, their forceful rhetoric and leadership working well in contrast with Ellen’s warm, inviting tone. The role of women, however, is still pushed in the monologues of Connolly and Larkin, the latter making direct reference to the efforts of his sister, Delia Larkin.
Both Larkin and Connolly’s legacies are held in almost- unanimous high regard across political divides and, perhaps, by Lockout’s audience members. What, then, can we learn from Lockout about Larkin and Connolly that we don’t already know? The answer is little, frankly, and Matthews, clearly, understands this limitation. Instead, she presents us with two courageous, charismatic leaders whose virtues of character are matched by the unwavering strength of a well- written central character, brought to life by an eqaully nuanced central performance.
In the aftermath of The McAleese Report on The Magdalene Laundries and with growing discontent among disenfranchised Labour Party voters, Lockout is Irish theatre at its most vital.
Playwright: Ann Matthews
Director: Anthony Fox
Cast: Alison Fitzpatrick (Ellen Byrne), Ian Meehan (James Larkin), Patrick O’Donnell (James Connolly)
Lockout runs in The New Theatre from the 15th – 20th April at 7.30pm. tickets: €12 / €15. For more information go to www.thenewtheatre.com
‘Lockout’ is part of Dublin: One City One Book and is presented with the assistance of Dublin UNESCO City of Literature.