The great thing about Stagemad Theatre Company’s revival of Prisoners Of Silence, was it gave the company another chance to celebrate a nearly neglected Waterford playwright who flew the flag for incisive and hard-hitting drama back in the sixties. James Cheasty merited this revival and it also gave Stagemad a vital chance to develop a strong local bond with an eager audience. Despite no Arts Council recognition and paltry support from City Council, this company hover between professional existence and amateur penury. Last year they brought a new play to New York, premiered three new local plays from Kieran Stewart, Adam Wallace and Anna Jordan, and still they are denied funding. Still they burn with the zeal of devotees to the local importance of writers and plays and a proud local audience want to support them and see them survive.
Due to recent revelations about self-seeking preservation instincts of pillars of society, James Cheasty’s play has taken on a new-found veracity as it exposes the duplicity of a Garda sergeant, a doctor, a senator, a publican and a seminarian. All were found wanting in moral fibre when the local drunk, a jeer of a man Lanty Hannigan, was brutally killed on Christmas Day at an un-lawful drinking session in a rural pub.
James Power, as director, assembled a top-notch cast to give this drama tension, reality and uncomfortable truth. Paddy Dwan’s set was a gem of accuracy and allowed the action to flow.
Aideen Power added poignancy to the occasion as a Carol Singer. Performances were of a high order with Eamon Kelly so accurate as the blustering Senator and Paul Dillon’s expressions without dialogue, told the depth of shock in the Doctor.
Margaret Curran caught the hypocrisy of the small publican and James Whelan showed so well the feet of clay of a junior priest. What a fine young actor he is. Fergus Cooper was excellent as the feckless drunk, full of spite and self-pity and his Lanty Hannigan will remain in peoples minds for a long while. Brid Power, as the long-suffering wife, Sarah, brought an uncomfortable reality to the stage with a searing performance of loss, hope and resignation.
Kieran Doyle was angry and visceral as the bullying Guard Leary and he poured bile and bitterness across the stage, in another memorable performance. Paul Corcoran, as Sgt. Casey, gave a touring performance as the easy-going appeaser of a local lawman and this was again a memorable and detailed study.
By the end, these performers and this theatre company, left the audience as uneasy prisoners of how difficult it still is to speak up and take the consequences.