The standing ovation, for Bryan Flynn’s anthemic Michael Collins, at Cork Opera House, hit me like a skyburst of emotion. Flag of Freedom was pounding away with a live orchestra, the cast, a large enthusiastic cast on a mission, and the wild skirling sound of uileann pipes set the heart alive as volley after volley of song, music and wild applause, filled the theatre. This is the awesome avalanche of adrenalin that you can get from musical theatre with its big brash broad strokes and its small intimate moments of reflection pathos and sadness.
Bryan Flynn is a modern master of this genre and with Michael Collins he has succeeded in taking on a difficult story of war, murder, revenge and the shaping of our own history. He gives you the time of war, the time of peace and he includes a beautiful love triangle of Collins’ love and his friend’s love (Harry Boland), for Kitty Kiernan as well as a political and human conflict of historic proportions of Collins conflict with De Valera.
In a way that Jack Charleton restored a love in the Irish Flag through pride in our nation, Bryan Flynn has enabled us to celebrate the bloodbath of our history.
Before the show I thought for a moment I was in the new theatre in Carrick-on-Suir as I met a contingent from Carrick down to support their hero Liam Butler, who has a multi-faceted role in the production. It was hello from Tom Nealon and wife, Noel Tracy, the wonderful Peg Power. I saw several from Waterford, especially the Kennedys who have seen this show more times than I have since Therese was in Pentimenti.
This production has a much clearer design, better use of set and lighting and a live orchestra under David Hayes’ expert control. Some small scenes have been added and this probably slows the action, as does the repeated reading by Collins of the text of Caitleen Ni Houlihan by W B Yeats. The insert, used with poetic and dramatic licence, is the play within the play, and is a wonderful slice of Irish myth to prefigure events. These thespians become the Greek-style chorus as a theatrical device of great power to tell the back story and pre-tell the future.
Those players were Rebecca Smith, Carol-Anne Ryan, Andrew Holden, Ellen McElroy and Liam Butler. In the ensemble David Flynn and Erica Delaney were significant. Con Murphy was Young Collins. Robert Vickers was a passionate Joe Emmet. Michael Grennell was a glorious De Valera. Derek Collins was excellent as Harry Boland. Irene Warren was luminous as Kitty Kiernan and Killian Donnelly swept all before him, like a force of nature, as Collins. This was a powerhouse of a performance in a big powerful production.
This show has caught the spirit, and brings a new look to Ireland, at a time we need leadership and brave action. Michael Collins, the show, gives new hope, and must have an Irish tour this year. It deserves it, Bryan Flynn and his cast deserve it, and This Love Will Never End.