Saturday, January 29, 2011

Theatre: The Cambria

"Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will."
- Frederick Douglass

The Cambria is based on the life of Frederick Douglass. Douglass was born a slave in the US in the early 1800s, and after his escape from slavery became a famous abolitionist. With a price on his head Douglass fled America, heading for Ireland on the steamship Cambria; and it is this part of Douglass' life that is the focus of the play.

Photo by Susan Helbrock.

The story features by necessity a wide range of characters; men and women, blacks and whites, young and old, a yankee liberal and a southern racist. The production's approach to this is for the two actors - Donal O'Kelly and Sorcha Fox - to each play a wide range of roles. It's impressive to watch: the actors have to smoothly transition between characters' mannerisms and accents. (In the case of the ship's captain each of the actors at different times plays this character.) For the most part this works well, although there's potential for confusion and once in a while there's a slight blending of accents.

A similarly impressive level of versatility is used is respect of physical objects. For the most part they're mimed rather than physically represented by props. This has the same sorts of benefits and drawbacks as the portrayal of multiple characters by each actor - it's quick and flexible but runs the risk of being confusing.

The story itself is well paced and interesting, and Douglass comes across as a good and likeable person. (I couldn't help but find myself wanting to see Morgan Freeman play him in a film, and the internet has subsequently told me that Freeman was the voice of Douglass in a documentary called The Civil War.)

The Cambria is entertaining, informative and very skillfully acted. In some respects this production is more like a story-telling than a play in the normal sense; and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

The play continues in Project Arts Centre up to and including 5th February 2011. Tickets cost €16 / €12.

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