Succession, ‘twas ever thus it seems, as the Finborough Theatre has us reflect on Birthright, a 20th century drama drawn from the Finborough Theatre Irish Playwrights connection. Birthright by T C Murray and it is a real gem, valuable, and iridescent with rage and desire. It’s small but perfectly formed with a running time of around 75minutes. The Irish poet, Kavanagh when reflecting on the hard-working rural farm labouring person, mused ‘They live in the dark cave of the unconscious and they scream when they see the light.’ In Murray’s play any new attitudes are suspiciously seen as posturing and the father of two sons is certainly screaming. Set rural Ireland, 1910, in a kitchen, with a hearth, and a heart, glowing and pulsating for the Morrissey family, a family broken by the lure of succession, where those who stand in the light need to be overshadowed. Directed with a certain ease and fluidity by Scott Hurran and designed by Raphaella Philcox, they capture this agricultural struggle with a warmth that draws us into the story telling.
Murray catches this farming family pre-WW1 and before political uprisings, but glimmers of unrest are perceptible as poverty ever looms, political awareness shadows the working life with church and state control ever present.
The tirelessly working mother, played with distraught sensitivity by Rosie Armstrong manages the men, the hard working but angry husband, the younger son, keen and helpful and of course the shining and talented Hugh, with his scholarly verses and words, and his popular prowess on the hurling field. Thomas Fitzgerald gives Hugh the status and stature that makes him the attractive yet flawed. He is a new man, the eldest son, in line for inheritance but seeks a life outside the farm, with his sport and social interactions with the townsfolk. His swaggering and charming character might suggest change is afoot, but this is 1910 and when Murray has him struck down with the hurley we give pause for thought. Padraig Lynch, bullish and bullying father, sees this eldest son as arrogant, self-centred and attention seeking seemingly not fit to inherit the farm. It is the second son, Shane, who is seen as the real successor by the father, and it is a powerful disinheriting moment when Lynch tears the label off the trunk bound for America and demands the passenger’s name is changed from Shane to Hugh. A mother can only weep, wail and pray in these times. Voiceless, like so many women in Ireland at the time, she is banished from the room as the men brail and brawl.
Murray’s play weaves us in nicely with the early arrival of a cheery visitor, Aidan McGleenan, who draws us into the family dynamics with fine chat, preparing us for the drama that unfolds.
Peter Broderick delivers a finely tuned performance as Shane where the outlying runner finally gets his day and it allows us to reflect upon the consequences of our actions when we grab the moment. It is left open as no one comes out of the rising conflict with honours.
This tale of succession is one that reflects the not so petty injustices of an Ireland struggling to flourish under pressures from church, state and from the land itself suggesting it is the things unsaid that fester and when inheriting those jealousies and grievances we are prevented from fully realising our full identity.
Birthright plays at The Finborough Theatre
Tuesday, 5 September 2023 – Saturday, 30 September 2023