Sunday, September 2, 2012

Review: The Horse Trading Diaries

Run Amok Theatre Company's new play The Horse Trading Diaries is inspired by the visit of Che Guevara to Ireland in 1965. Set in a (fictional) hotel in Limerick, the play is a dark comedy about the reactions and intrigues of the staff and guests of the hotel in response to Guevara's arrival.

The Horse Trading Diaries is Shane Burke's second play. His first, Flipside, was one of the most impressively high-quality debut plays I've seen. The Horse Trading Diaries shares a similar structure in that there isn't just one single protagonist. Instead, we get to see events from multiple perspectives, and as in Flipside this keeps the play moving along nicely throughout.


Colm Kenny-Vaughan (left) as Tim and Conor Scott (right) as Michael

The play's name is a reference to The Motorcycle Diaries, a biographical travelogue about Guevara in the days before he became a revolutionary, but in The Horse Trading Diaries Guevara is just passing through and is not a man of action so much as a catalyst for action by the other characters. Actor Ian Meehan faces a major challenge in portraying the iconic and charismatic Guevara, and though his depiction is a little understated this is more interesting than presenting the revolutionary as a larger-than-life figure dominating the other characters by his mere presence. Decades after his death it's easy to see the man as a legend instead of as the brave and contentious killer his contempories must have viewed him as.

To the extent that this complex play can be reduced to a single main theme, it's Ireland's relationship with revolution and rebellion. As Shakespeare put it, 'the eye sees not itself but by reflection', and Guevara's visit gives playwright Burke (and his characters) a way to look at Ireland's attitude to the heroes and villains of its history; and as the production's programme points out, at the time of Guevara's visit the then Taoiseach and President of Ireland were both former revolutionaries. Conor Scott is well cast as Michael, the hotel manager and former rebel, and provides some of the best dialogue of the play in discussing his past. The New Theatre is a particularly fitting venue for this production given that it's housed in the same location as the socialist bookshop Connolly Books. Ireland's rebellious history undoubtedly continues to influence our attitudes today, and is presumbly one reason for the recent controversial plans for a statue of Guevara in Galway.

'The Horse Trading Diaries' is undoubtedly good, but I should give a slight word of caution. Although billed as a comedy the play's humour varies widely in style and is often quite dry; perhaps unsurprisingly given the darkness of its themes. If you're looking for quality and wit in a play you'll be well rewarded by Run Amok's latest work - just don't expect a light-hearted comedy full of easy laughs.

Rating: ****

The Horse Trading Diaries runs until 8th September in the New Theatre in Temple Bar, starting at 8 pm each evening and ending around 9:45 pm, including a 15 minute interval. Tickets cost €15 / €12.

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