The new Thomas Kilroy play at the Abbey Theatre Christ Deliver Us! Is generating a fine head of steam and publicity because it looks at abuse of authority, the unquestionable power of church and to a lesser extent the State as it affected young people growing up in innocence and fear in the repressive fifties. Set in a provincial town it looks at the interconnected lives of boy and girls coming to terms with a world of rules, taboos and poisonous closed minds.
From early in the work the twenty five or so actors present in a stark style the terrible consequences of growing up in a world of suppression and ignorance. Kilroy was influenced by a German expressionist playwright Frank Wedekind whose startling play Spring Awakening caused scandal in the 1890’s with its depiction of puberty and explicit sexual references. Kilroy avoids anything explicit but it is still disturbing to sense how long it took our society to come to terms with the implications of the Murphy and Ryan reports.
While it would be simplistic to say there is nothing new in this play and the National Theatre is hardly brave and controversial in giving us a grim history lesson – a history lesson that many youth theatre productions have developed over the last twenty years or so. But it is only the National Theatre who could afford to mount such a large cast production. There are at least five clerical parts who use the cane liberally and several brothers who wield the fearful leather strap. I winced at these scenes but strangely the bloody violence occurs among the inmates or victims of a reform school called St.Joseph’s where a right authority system operated among the boys as well.
I found the play over long and it telegraphed most of its surprised except for a spectacular lighting rig effect. It had what used to be called an experimental ending but I felt it was a cop out.
In a big cast Aoife Duffin, Aaron Monaghan, Laurence Kinlan, Cathy Belton, Tom Hickey and Peter Hanley stood out.
The young director Wayne Jordan used youth theatres devices to move the story along but he lacked control or rage when the work needed more than docudrama.
Waterford got a mention then the pregnant girl was threatened with being shipped off to the nuns in Waterford so as not to bring any further disgrace on her family.