We know all about Lizzie Nunnery here. The writer is an Etc. favourite and we’re always interested in her work. The latest? Another ‘new play with songs’, this time focusing on Ireland and the Easter of 1916. By Val Colvin.
“It’s good to be home and among friends.” Lizzie Nunnery, Liverpool playwright and singer/songwriter, is talking to me before ‘To Have To Shoot Irishmen’, the latest play with songs the Scouse scribe has delivered to the Everyman Theatre. Following the acclaim for 2017’s ‘The Sum’, the production (inspired by the true events of six days of armed struggle in 1916 that changed Irish and British history) played for three nights during last month’s annual Liverpool Irish Festival.
Her tale takes place during a revolutionary decade of continual political crisis in Ireland. With just a cast of four, ‘To Have To Shoot Irishmen’ depicts the struggles and emotions that surrounded the murder of pacifist Francis Sheehy-Skeffington (Frank) by a rogue British soldier, Captain Colthurst. Hanna, Frank’s wife, a suffragist, has been imprisoned in the past for revolutionary activities, been on hunger strike and fought for women’s voting rights. The play, directed by Gemma Kerr, opens with her walking through the streets of Dublin, once familiar surroundings, asking: “Have you seen my Frank?” The sound of gunfire and shelling are all around, enveloped by broken windows and shattered buildings, as she suddenly realises everything is changing. “Where is my city?” she asks.
Frank, an Irish writer, spoke against conscription and war on the streets of Dublin. He’s seen bloodshed and death, has risked his life to save a British soldier and now he has been taken hostage at gunpoint and dragged to barracks, where he is held captive. William, Frank’s guard at the barracks, is eighteen years-old and aspires to live up to his father’s expectations of him. William is derided by Frank for his obedience to the British Army and for holding him captive without charge. However, an unlikely relationship develops between them and Frank takes on a fatherly role, calming William when he later hyperventilates. Despite the fact there is a cell wall between them, they play imaginary chess together, exchange stories of their fathers and Frank talks of his child to William. William’s true sense of agony is shown when Frank tells of how he thought he would die and Frank cries out: “If Colthurst comes back, will you speak? For me?” “He’s a Captain,” says William. Later, Sir Francis Fletcher-Vane, the commander of the forces, enters the life of Hanna by telling her of the death of her husband and tries to build bridges by asking her to join forces with him to fight the rogue element in the British Army.
This play tells of how opposites attract: the pacifism of Frank and the activism of Hanna, the prisoner and his guard, and the law-abiding Vane and the rogue Colthurst. ‘To Have To Shoot Irishmen’ reveals Hanna’s strength and vulnerability, Frank’s courage and fear, William’s loyalty and guilt, and Vane’s duty and responsibility. Blended amid the spoken word are a mix of traditional songs written at the time and original songs (newly-written and arranged by Nunnery and her husband and composer, Vidar Norheim). It’s a play about rebellion, corruption, conflict, power and the search for peace – a peace which can often end in violence and tragedy.
Sadly, over one hundred years later, the events of Easter 1916 in Ireland still resonate around the world. Indeed, you can imagine many women, men and children – in places such as Syria, Yemen and Palestine – shouting “where is my city?” and wondering if they will ever find peace. Or their loved ones.
To Have To Shoot Irishmen
Tuesday November 6th 2018, 7.30pm
The Arts Centre, Edge Hill University, Ormskirk
Pic courtesy Everyman & Playhouse
For over thirty years, the author Val Colvin has worked inside the National Health Service. She’s seen a lot of changes. For the last twenty nine years, Val has worked on a Paediatric Intensive Care Unit – first at Myrtle Street, then Alder Hey and now on the new ‘Private Finance Initiative’ site on East Prescot Road. Earlier this year, Etc. asked Val what it feels like to work inside the NHS today… and she told us: ‘Fight For Your Life – Our NHS’