Connolly, a one-man show written and performed by Brian McCardie and directed by his brother Martin McCardie at the Tron Theatre, evokes a very Scottish brand of agitprop theatre. At the top of the piece the director takes to the stage to make clear the parameters of theatre-going: no phones, and no nipping out to replenish your glass in the middle of a poignant scene. By opening with a short set of politically charged songs, beautifully performed by a three-strong band and freely accompanied by several audience members, this show immediately aligns itself with the work of companies such as 7:84 and Wildcat. What follows over the next hour and a half, however, is purely Irish in its beating heart.
Brian McCardie plays the titular James Connolly, an Edinburgh-born Irish republican and socialist leader who was executed by British Army firing squad on 12 May 1916 for his commanding role in the Easter Rising in Dublin. Connolly utilises a method of direct address, treating the audience as a group of brothers and sisters in arms, and quotes directly from Connolly’s own words, recollections of fellow Irish volunteers, and testimony from his daughter Nora Connolly O’Brien. McCardie is explosive and powerful, exploring the gentle nuances of emotion in Connolly’s recollections of his life. As a writer, he skilfully articulates humour and sadness, which adds colour and humanity to his portrayal.
Where this production occasionally falls flat is in its over-working of the ‘good and honourable men back up by hard-working women’ narrative that dramaturgically grows a little wearing. The several leaps forward in time are sometimes confusing, punctuated only by a slight shift in lighting state. Overall, this production will not win over any Unionist hearts or minds, but then it doesn’t ever make any claims of impartiality. It does succeed however in painting a vivid, emotive picture of a man driven forward by a socialist ideal and a desire to improve conditions for the working class the world over.