Theatrical: ‘The Fall of the Second Republic’ at the Abbey Theatre

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‘The Fall of the Second Republic’ by the Corn Exchange officially opens on the main stage of the Abbey Theatre this Thursday. I have already seen it twice.

Late last year I purchased an ‘early bird’ preview ticket for a tenner for the Tuesday performance. On Monday however, as I was walking past the Abbey on my way home I noticed a queue winding its way down the street beside the theatre. That meant one thing only – the ‘first free preview’. The time was 6.15pm. Like a hot snot I darted across the road to inquire whether there were still free tickets available when they would be distributed shortly. The news was good. I had no plans that evening and watching the Monday performance would enable me to attend the ‘intimidating and bullying’ public meeting by Sinn Fein in Liberty Hall around the corner the following night. (This bizarre description of the Sinn Fein meeting was given by acting Taoiseach Leo Varadkar who apparently believes that politicians and their parties must only engage with the public at very specific times before elections – maybe that’s why Fine Gael lost a quarter of its seats two weeks ago).

It is approaching three years since I first attended the Abbey Theatre after my move to Dublin upon my return to Ireland after fifteen years. In March 2017 I attended the Corn Exchange’s revival of ‘Dublin by lamplight’ – a tragi-comic account of the establishment of the national theatre – on the actual stage of the national theatre. I loved that show – you can read my account of it HERE. Expectations were high for this new production. ‘The Fall of the Second Republic’ is again written by Michael West and directed by Amy Ryan.

The setting is Dublin in the mid-1970s. Intrepid reporter Emer Hackett (played by Caitriona Ennis) works for the Freeman’s Journal. She is on the trail of a major story involving political corruption at the highest level. The wily Taoiseach Manny Spillane (Andrew Bennett) wants to secure his legacy by building the Irish Banking Centre on the site of the Theatre Royal. He is in cahoots with crooked developer Tom Carney (Declan Conlon) to achieve this. Unfortunately pesky hippies and students are squatting inside to preserve the building. His cabinet colleagues – who include his sister and son-in-law – are conspiring against him. His devoted assistant Goretti Horan (a hilarious Anna Healy) takes good care of him however. Sinister machinations are afoot by Spillane to build the IBC, while clinging on to power and thwarting the efforts of the opposition party and his cabinet to overthrow him.

Hackett smells an exclusive, and after receiving a tip off is hot on the trail. Meanwhile her editor (Patrick Ryan) is refusing to give her a by-line, and she finds herself inconveniently pregnant by her colleague Finbar Lowe (John Doran) who has been offered the Northern Ireland correspondent job – to his dismay.

‘The Fall of the Second Republic’ is a fast paced, comedic farce that succeeds admirably. Through the costumes and set it evokes the sleazy, drab atmosphere of 1970s Ireland. The show moves at a frenetic pace with the ensemble cast playing multiple roles in various settings at a breakneck speed. It is very funny (my favourite being the twisted relationship between Spillane and Goretti) while also offering a mirror on the current political situation in Ireland as the civil war political parties – Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael – are convulsing with pretence that a coalition deal is not already full hatched so they can maintain power despite falling to only 43% of the popular vote combined this month.

The play captures all the seedy corruption of Irish political life over generations that remains to this day – dynastic politics; brown envelops stuffed with cash for bribes; offshore bank accounts; a press only too willing to obey the bidding of the ruling party; the prioritisation of self and party over the will of the electorate..

Manny Spillane looks like Garrett Fitzgerald and acts like Charles Haughey – the parochial Berlusconi of Irish politics. The political party seems to be a caricature of the Fianna Fáil party in the 1970s, but as witnessed over the past decade the satire is equally applicable to Fine Gael.

The script is sharp and the direction very tight. The ensemble cast is very talented and work together as a cohesive unit – particular praise going to Anna Healy.

I enjoyed the play very much. So much so that when I read that the Sinn Fein meeting in Liberty Hall was full to capacity on Tuesday, I returned to the Abbey to see the show again with my pre-booked ticket – a worthwhile decision that allowed me to absorb even more from the performances. In fact I preferred the second night’s show.

Of course it’s not be the greatest story ever told (that has yet to be written and in this play the pregnancy subplot felt slightly superfluous) but ‘The Fall of the Second Republic’ is an enjoyable, entertaining, incisive black comedy that deserves full houses. Running until March 14th this show is recommended.

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