This month, the Finborough Theatre in Kensington showcases the world premiere of Continuity by emerging Irish playwright, Gerry Moynihan. Director Shane Dempsey marks Moynihan’s debut, a production that examines the unsteady conscience of an Irish freedom fighter. Performed solo by actor Paul Kennedy, Continuity questions the Republican Cause when the conflict is no longer for political independence, but for love.
Irish Republican Padraig Devlin begins to doubt The Cause after an infatuation with a woman from Barcelona. Soon after meeting her, he fails to complete three consecutive assignments, and in doing so, draws himself to the attention of a fellow terrorist cell. This group decide to test Devlin’s love for his partner against his commitment to the Irish Resistance, but what will become of Devlin when he learns of the reasoning behind this investigation?
A stepladder shadows a window, curtained in a dull green. Furniture has been pushed to the back of the stage, and is covered in a paint strewn cloth to warn away dust. Two red metal chairs sit at odd angles, the floor beneath it covered in a frosty blue plastic. The glacial floor becomes white where dried paint has been trodden in, chipped from the skirting boards. A single lightbulb hangs above this nondescript environment designed by May Hannah Davies, a place faintly suggestive of an IRA safe house.
As Padraig Devlin, Kennedy begins by warming the audience with unsubtle Irish humour. He visits the characters of his two cronies with ease, and at times he is able to fill the stage with invisible figures. At others, the stage grows sparse and hollow, gnawing at Devlin’s stream of consciousness as it floods into the violence of the political missions prescribed by his team leader. After becoming acquainted with Gorka, a bohemian Spaniard in a local pub, his comrades become increasingly more resentful of his happiness. With love comes empathy, and with that, a despondency to the radicalism of the Continuity Movement. These subconscious shifts call for slight adjustments in personality, which Kennedy manages to communicate well throughout.
Radio announcements of dissident republican activity melt into crystal vibrations, as if someone is running their finger along the rim of a wine glass. Designed by Anna Clock, sound is used as a running stitch within the fabric of the narrative, and appears together with changes in lighting state (designed by Steve Owens), to communicate shifts in time and place. At times these relocations are staggered rather than smooth, and help to deteriorate the audience’s engagement with the piece. Moments of terror became more interesting than the scenes approached with romantic delicacy, and so the bigger picture grows sketchy, losing the finer performative details.
Moynihan does not underestimate the intelligence of his audience, but his script has a habit of surrendering the gravity of the Irish Republican Army to episodes of comedy. As a result, instances of incredible dramatization from Kennedy would be undermined and then become misplaced by a well-informed joke. The humour, although amusing, keeps this examination of the IRA at surface level, and prevents its actor from accessing and remaining within the depths of both history and emotion.
Continuity bravely summons the violent spectres of Irish history, and Moynihan has constructed a narrative with definite potential. At times the action is compelling, but the crossover between the personal and the political needs more intense focus, and so the production is found lacking the resolution to delve further than skin-deep.
Continuity is playing at the Finborough Theatre until August 15.
Photo: Gary Wolf