A Terrible Beauty

A thorough, measured account of a key moment in the history of Ireland, this opening production in the new run of “A Play, a Pie and a Pint” at Oran Mor in Glasgow’s West End, makes up in skilled delivery what it lacks in clarity.

The performances are particularly strong. John Kielty gives us a sympathetic Michael Collins while Gavin Wright does credit to some very subtle material in bringing us the naive McPeak.

Written by Ian Pattison, best known for bringing us Rab C Nesbitt, A Terrible Beauty focuses on Michael Collins, Free State Commander in Chief during the Irish Civil War. The story is told through the eyes of an idealistic young Glaswegian soldier and relates the events surrounding Collins’ final ill-fated visit to Cork in August 1922. The bulk of the drama comes from the fact that Collins has just signed a controversial peace treaty with Britain. He stands by his decision but Crowley, a representative of the anti-treaty movement, disagrees.

The performances are particularly strong. John Kielty gives us a sympathetic Michael Collins while Gavin Wright does credit to some very subtle material in bringing us the naive McPeak. Special mention, though, goes to the excellent George Docherty as Crowley; while he essentially exists as a foil to Collins, and a representative of a completely opposing point of view, Docherty successfully raises Crowley well clear of being simply an archetype.

At its best, the play is an intelligent assessment of the ideological arguments on either side of the Civil War: on Collins’ side is de facto home rule and peace, while still ostensibly being under the British Crown, while on Crowley's side is the decision to continue to fight for full, official freedom. At the moments when these are the issues at stake, the play dramatises them effectively, along with drawing some subtle but pertinent comparisons with the current debate around Scottish Independence.
However, problems arise when the play goes into the real nitty-gritty of the political situation in Ireland in 1922. The characters discuss the intricacies of the problem, name all the people involved and discuss their views, and talk about all the possible outcomes without (generally) pausing to explain who any of these people are or give any real context. If you haven't revised your Irish history recently, prepare to feel a little lost.
In general, the effect is like that of listening in on someone else’s conversation. You can pick up the gist, and understand the emotional meaning, but the actual details of who is who and who said what are lost. This is a shame because, when the play places its focus on the characters who are actually on the stage, it is a very engaging piece of theatre.

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The Blurb

In August 1922 as the Irish Civil War raged, Free State Commander in Chief Michael Collins made a trip to West Cork. Though a native of the area, Collins had been warned not make the journey. As a signatory to the recent peace treaty with Britain that had caused the conflict, he was now a divisive figure. With Anti Treaty forces mustering in retreat from Cork City, this was now a dangerous place for Collins to be. He was repeatedly warned against making the journey down from Dublin. Collins had practical, administrative reasons for doing so but it has long been held that he had another, more pressing agenda. What is not in doubt is that Michael Collins’ trip to West Cork was to change Irish history. - See more at: http://www.oran-mor.co.uk/whats-on/terrible-beauty-ian-pattison/?eID=10424#sthash.256COs3w.dpuf