There were standing ovations, roars of exultation, tears of achievement, rushes of emotion an outpourings of praise for Bryan Flynn’s stunning production of his own musical Michael Collins; a Musical Drama at Cork Opera House last week. Such was the success of the work that I expect that the venue will bring it back again by gathering public demand, later in the year.
Being in the audience, at home in The Theatre Royal, for the premiere was such a powerful and memorable experience, late last year but the surge of emotion I felt last Friday in Cork was something else – a different kind of special. The work seemed larger, more historic and more mythic on the much larger and wider stage. I felt I knew the words to such anthemic songs as Price To Be Paid, Flag Of Freedom, Every Heart Awaken and the love and tenderness of The Moment Sublime, was a revelation.
Once again I was impressed by the way Bryan Flynn understands and uses musical theatre and drama to tell a complex story and keep the audience rapt with attention. The device of a play with a play, using Yeats, Cathleen Ni Houlihan as a powerful metaphor for the struggle for Irish freedom and the four green fields of the mythic Cathleen/Mother Ireland.
The performers in the Yeats drama became the Greek chorus who advanced the storyline and told Michael Collins early life (the back story) and in a very contemporary theatrical way, asked many of the hard and contradictory questions of the period. As the story unfolded, I again felt great pride to be Irish and I felt great pride for Waterford and Bryan Flynn. At the Opera House I met lots of Waterford and Carrick people, who spoke, often excitedly, about their hopes and dreams as fulfilled by Bryan Flynn.
Perhaps it is not just fulfilment but hopefully just another step in not just Bryan Flynn’s career as a writer/composer, but in the musical and theatrical history of Waterford. Sometimes, we think there are no big stories to be told anymore or that history has no fan club or contemporary relevance anymore but experiencing the power of this musical shows that cannot be the case.
It was an immense achievement to bring any creative work to fruition and to a wider audience and Bryan Flynn was well served by a strong, devoted and dedicated cast and crew. Trevor Knight’s beautiful orchestrations of Flynn’s music adds so much to the heart-stopping impact and Flaithri Neff recorded Uileann Pipes were so uplifting. Emer Maycock’s Whistles/Flutes carried the heart along as Blanaid McCann’s costume design and Richard O’Neill’s lighting design gave the work relevance and impact.
Young cast from The Performer’s Academy filled out the crowd scenes and gave the work added poignancy and shape. Conor Murphy was Young Michael Collins, Therese O’Sullivan was Katie and Laura Cahill was Helena. Andrew Holden, David Flynn and Michael Sands were powerful in The Ensemble with Sarah Burke, Bridget Nolan, Carol-Anne Ryan, Jill Casey, Michelle Fitzgerald and Claire Mansfield.
Michael Sands was particularly effective as Cathal Brugha. The backbone of the production was he multi-functional multi-role Players. Liam Butler was awesome in an array of excellent characterisations, Lynda Gough was powerful as Mother Ireland and Michael Quinlan was a joy to see in a variety of roles. Rebecca Smith was excellent and Eimear McCarthy similarly.
Robert Vickers adds much to the veracity of the experience as Joe Emmet. Derek Collins, as Harry Boland, is masterful in establishing the love hate confusion at the heart of the personal story in Trio. Irene Warren is luminous and beautiful as Kitty Kiernan and Michael Grennell is accomplished and chilling as Eamon DeValera.
Killian Donnelly inhabits the role, the person of Michael Collins, in a powerful and believable way and his work and passion drives home the dramatic and historic position. He is at once, hero and executioner; lover and terrorist. His work is unflinching and memorable and on the big stage, in a large auditorium, he looks like and is Michael Collins.