Theatrical: ‘The Roaring Banshees’


Yesterday afternoon I finished work early and headed over to the Convention Centre close to my house. This weekend is the World Con 2019 (World Science Fiction Convention). I know the director of the opening ceremony and I had written a short piece based on a collaborative idea about Halloween. It was to be performed by Firedoor Theatre as part of the ceremony. Set on the night of Samhain (Halloween) a Druid, Banshee and Morrigan – the Irish queen of war – are in an underworld bar having a drink after a night of mayhem. The Viking Brodir – slayer of Brian Boru – enters, accompanied by a failed actor from the over-world. Shenanigans ensue.

As I was heading to the theatre later, I went to watch the dress rehearsal. It was the largest theatre ever for something I have participated in. The capacity is about 2000 people. The actors were miked up and in costume and did a couple of run-throughs which seemed to go smoothly. The gigantic live screen at the back of the stage was wildly intimidating. I wished them luck and exited the theatre, to promptly get lost in a maze of red carpeted corridor. It was as if I was in ‘The Shining’. Keeping a keen eye open for ‘RED RUM’ on the walls, I entered a lift and ended up in the cavernous kitchens in the bowels of the building. A kindly kitchen porter showed me the exit, and I emerged into the day light, with eyes blinking.

I had an appointment to see the play ‘Roaring Banshees’ at Smock Alley Theatre. These were the complimentary tickets I was offered last week. I am as fond of a freebie as anyone so to the theatre I went.

‘Roaring Banshee’s is written by Peter McGann and John Morton, directed by Sarah Baxter, and produced by Devious Theatre from Kilkenny. It is part two of the Ripping Yarn Trilogy, following 2016’s ‘The Hellfire Squad’.

The year is 1923. After a failed assassination attempt on Eamon de Valera, a Cumann na mBan (Women’s Army) unit of seven women, flee across the Atlantic to escape the law in a post-independence Ireland. With Prohibition in full swing in the USA, they start making bootleg poitín and selling it on to Al Capone and the Chicago mafia. It’s not long before a gang war breaks out with the Banshees caught in the thick of it. The skills they honed back home killing Black and Tans are taken to the bullet-strewn streets of the Windy City.

The opening act moves at a frenetic pace, the action not letting up for a moment. While it an energetic and engaging, fictionalised retelling of recent history, some quiet moments would have benefited the overall piece. If only to add some shades. A pace so relentless can be tiring. This is visible in the characters on stage who become almost caricatures because of the broad strokes with which they are portrayed. There is little room for any nuance or subtlety because of the pacing. This – while not a major problem as some of the characters are fascinating- makes it slightly difficult to remember individual plot points. As an ensemble the cast is strong, ably supporting each other. Some stand out – Laura Brady as the cocaine-addled, murderous former nun Concepta is hilarious; and Amy Dunne’s charactet of Molly with her fascination with Hollywood and America is entertaining.

I won’t spoil the ending but I will just say I found it slightly unsatisfying, and in the pub afterwards my companion and I invented some alternative endings. Which is a tribute to the play in fact, in that we were engaged enough to imagine how we would have written it. It is the sign of an interesting piece. That the piece plays loose with historical accuracy is not important – the dialogue, themes and motivations are written from a more modern perspective.  This is perfectly acceptable – this is not a documentary.

One note I would give that can (and should) be corrected immediately is not to glare the lights so brightly into the audience’s eyes at a few points throughout the piece. That was horrific and intrusive, as well as being entirely unnecessary to the plot.

Overall it was an interesting evening of theatre watching a decent play, that with some judicious tweaking could be very good indeed. I love to give glowing reviews knowing the time effort and energy that goes into a production. However I owe it to Oprah Winfrey to speak my truth. I have always said that opinions are like arseholes. And this one is mine.

‘The Roaring Banshees’ runs until August 31st in the Main Space at Smock Alley Theatre.


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