Monday, 2 November 2015

I'll Be the Devil - Leo Butler. Tricycle Theatre, London, February 2008

The play was commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company, as an answer in response to Shakespeare's The Tempest. Is a barbaric journey to 18th century Limerick, south-west Ireland, and covers two stormy nights approaching Easter.

The play has a cast of twelve characters, but the from the very start we know this is not going to be an easy play to read. Dermot (Tom Burke) has been placed in standing stocks, so has an uncanny resemblance to the crucifix. He is wearing rags, caked in dried blood, and his eyes have been gouged out.

A soldier from the English Army [Lt Coyle] has two illegitimate children [Dermot, and Ellen] via his Irish mistress [Maryanne]. He is due to leave for England, and this abandonment of Maryanne and her children sparks a dramatic series of events.

Dermot becomes a mechanism for Maryanne to seek revenge against Lt Coyle. Dermot is caught massacring cattle which are on a farm which had belonged to Lt Coyle's Catholic brother, but had now been commandeered by a British colonial. Coyle tries to protect his demented son, but has to be careful, or he risks exposing his historical Catholic ancestry.

Maryanne has difficulty in weighing up her desire to go to England, with her loyalty to her kinsmen and hatred of the occupying army. Her lover witnessed the execution of her husband by the English, but he has now joined forces with them in order that he can put food on the table.

In order to get an understanding of what is going on, it helps to know something about Irish history at that time, otherwise the play does not give us enough of a commentary to fully understand the situation the characters find themselves in. Penal Law at the time gripped areas like Limerick when anti-Catholic discrimination was rife, it would have been an unimaginable place to live if you were Catholic. It is not really clear who the Devil that Dermot refers to at the start of the play is, and are the pigs the Irish traitors who are ignoring their faith in order to fill their bellies (such as his own father)?

As Coyle betrays his son in a pub in town, claiming he does not know him, we see matters turn uglier, from forcing Dermot to drink a cup filled with Capt Farrell's urine, to the tavern becoming a raucous torture chamber.The torture continues further on in the play as we experience the rape of Coyle's daughter right under her mothers eyes.

By the end of the play we know that Dermot is responsible for gouging his own eyes out, and is ready to die for the religion he is too na├»ve to understand. This is a play which gripped me, but I was also repulsed by the violence and graphic depiction of mans inhumanity to man and the often coarse dialogue.

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