PAUL Kennedy should be given the freedom of Ireland for his portrayal of Padraig Devlin in Continuity, a play receiving its world premiere at the Finborough Theatre (a seedbed of thespian and directorial talent) in London’s Chelsea.
It is as commanding and riveting a performance as you will see all summer on the stage, West End or fringe. Indeed, the freedom of The Shamrock Isle would be a fitting reward for Kennedy given his character’s determination to see a united Ireland – 32 counties all as one.
For 75 minutes, Kennedy mesmerises the audience as Padraig sings, falls in love with a Spanish girl, drinks himself silly, does some dastardly deeds and deals with his two awkward nationalist comrades in arms – a nasty Eamonn and Jo, as devoted to the cause as nationalists come.
It is a one man virtuoso show with Kennedy accompanied on stage by no more than two red chairs for props and an occasional bit of music (Madonna’s Into the Groove gets an airing). He hardly has time to draw breath as he mimics Eamonn’s stutter and takes us on a journey that has no happy ending.
It is an Irish tour de force. Unmissable theatre. A play where the viewer is required to visualise what Padraig is saying. It is all the more powerful for the experience. Theatre stripped down to the bone.
The play, written by Gerry Moynihan and directed by Shane Dempsey, is set in Derry in 2017. Padraig, Jo and Eamonn are determined to see the Brits driven out of Ireland. Through a series of set pieces, we witness them (through Padraig) hand out vicious punishment to a petty criminal found guilty of drug dealing and stealing cars. We also learn of their attempts to murder those who have betrayed the cause by joining the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland).
In one scene Jo dresses up in a black beret and dark glasses and proclaims that the struggle (more than 100 years of struggle since the Easter Rising of 1916) will never go away. No peace, no compromise until Ireland is one. He then pulls out a gun. ‘Jo should be Taoiseach of Ireland’ proclaims Eamonn.
The three, however, are an accident waiting to happen. Padraig is distracted by the arrival of Gorka, a young lady (‘hippy chick’) from Barcelona who is working at the university for a year. It is an affair that Eamonn disapproves of and uses to suggest that Padraig is going soft and is no longer committed to the cause. A botched bombing fuels Eamonn’s suspicions.
Yet there is big history between the two which involves their fathers. A history which eventually ends in a savage retribution taken out on Padraig’s family – and ultimately leads to a distraught and revengeful Padraig taking drastic action himself.
It is powerful powder keg material from the pen of Moynihan. It is a play that looks at the constant conflict between political and personal motives – ‘nothing personal, it’s political,’ says Jo at one stage. Padraig begs to differ as the final words of the play confirm.
It also equates the nationalist struggle to that of the ouroboros – constantly having to eat itself in order to survive. It is a message that the play makes loud and clear.
Continuity may appear heavy duty material after a hard day’s work. But there is enough humour (craic) and glimpses of compassion in the play to ward off any feelings of depression. The moment Padraig gives Gorka a Claddagh ring just as she is about to head back to Barcelona is a moving one. How will she wear it (heart up or down)? What will it symbolise? Free and available or in a relationship?
If you like your theatre raw, Continuity is for you. Judging by the reaction of the audience to Kennedy’s epic performance on Press night, a visit to the Finborough Theatre to see this play will not be a wasted one. Another feather in the cap for Finborough Theatre and artistic director Neil McPherson. A fringe theatre that continues to punch far above its weight.
Continuity runs until August 15.
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Playwright: Gerry Moynihan
Director: Shane Dempsey
Padraig Devlin: Paul Kennedy