When I read ‘Star of the sea’ by Joseph O’Connor earlier this century, I was astonished. That brilliant book concerned a murder committed on a coffin ship sailing from Famine-stricken Ireland to the New World. A semi-sequel ‘Redemption Falls’ was published some years later in 2007. I was in the American Book Center in Amsterdam on the day of release such was my anticipation. To my horror I loathed it – finding it turgid, incomprehensible and very, very dull. It was a huge disappointment – thankfully it was only a blip on O’Connor’s illustrious output and I loved his subsequent books ‘Ghost light’ and ‘The thrill of it all’.
Upon hearing that Moonfish Theatre from Galway, had adapted ‘Redemption Falls’ for the Dublin Theatre Festival at the Peacock Theatre in the Abbey, I was wary. How could such a work be translated for the stage – especially such a difficult one? Unwilling to take a financial risk on buying a ticket for such an adaptation., I decided I would join the queue after work today to see if I could acquire a ‘free first preview’. This is a splendid scheme whereby new productions are shown free of charge to an audience at the Abbey Theatre, before the official opening. It involves queuing of course, but the pay off is often worth it.
In this instance I am so glad that I did.
The year is 1865 – the end of the US Civil War. Eliza Duane Mooney – daughter of Irish emigrants whose parents came to America on the ‘Star of the sea’ – walks across America in search of her brother Jeddo, a child soldier in the Confederate army. Jeddo has made his way to the settlement of Redemption Falls and is living with the governor Con O’Keeffe and his wife Lucia (who does not welcome his presence).
Their stories are told as a theatre-gig weaving traditional folk song and music, stark imagery and a powerful narrative.
It is quite brilliant – harrowing, heartbreaking and quietly but beautifully told, the ensemble cast of seven tell a spellbinding tale – through words and music – of the brutality of war, the ties that bind family and how the destitute first generation of Irish immigrants to America made their way in that cold new world.
So impressed was I that I am considering revisiting the book to see whether my judgement was somehow impaired when I read it all those years ago.
Running until the 19th October ‘Redemption Falls’ is highly recommended. As it it sold out, acquiring a ticket might be a challenge. Rare would I make this suggestion, but I’d encourage you to call the theatre in case any cancelled tickets become available.