Back by popular demand: Pals – Irish at Gallipoli has returned to Collins Barracks. I missed it the first time, so I made sure to be in the frontline to secure my ticket for the second time around.
Pals play by Anu Productions is nothing like any other play you might have seen before. Based on real events, this piece of theatre is so unconventional mainly because it’s site-specific. A term not everyone might be familiar with, especially if you haven’t seen a production like Pals before. Site-specific means that the play takes place where the event the story based on actually happened. In this case it is Collins Barracks (currently it’s the home to The National Museum of Ireland).
The name might be a tiny giveaway. The play is about four pals – best friends – rugby players, who signed up to take part in the first world war. They move into the barracks to prepare before they get a placement abroad. Where? Nobody knows, but the excitement is only the bigger from the fact. Some of these boys have never been outside of Ireland, let alone fought in a war. They signed up as a team, all together, under one condition: wherever they go, they go together.
This very well-to-do middle or even upper class boys are not aware yet what a real war means. Young, healthy, full of energy, enthusiasm and life, just like many other of their contemporaries, they tend to romanticize war; for them it’s just another adventure. The pals are looking forward to be waved off by their sweethearts, when, dressed in a khaki uniform and carrying a gun, they will march off to the front. While still in their dorms, they sing, dance, play… it hasn’t hit them yet; not all of them, anyway. Trembling with simple human fear, some of the pals do realise that once there – on the frontline – there will be no way back. These boys, many of whom are still in their teens, go mental, they have nightmares, they even try to take their own life… anything’s better than the unknown. Complete and utter fear takes over and there is no one to help. It’s better to be dead than a coward.
In this play the set is as much a part of the play, as the actors are. Pals starts outside the main entrance on Collins Barracks, on the square. While you are being told the brief story of the pals army, right behind you the action is already taking place. The feeling is comparable to that one from a book: you are being converted into a ghost, you can travel through time and space and watch any moment in history happening as it is without being seen.
Then the audience is being brought into one of the actual dorms. You are allowed to sit on one of the beds (not one of the comfy modern one, but an old felted one) while the action, quite literally, takes place around you. The actors come and go from nowhere. One scene organically changes into another… the actors are not afraid to communicate with the audience at the same time. Do expect to be asked a question or sung to. Just play along with it.
Every pal has his own personality and a way of accepting (or not accepting) the situation. The play beautifully shows the battle of a man against himself. You will be dead either way, why have to suffer?
The sound and light do an amazing job here. The space is used quite smartly: the stretch in between doorways,from time to time, converts into a track with the deafening sound of a fast approaching train and blinding lights. The image of man going towards the light is quite haunting.
The pals finally get the final news and the destination. They are being sent to Gallipoli. Greece, sweet! – some might think. The pals cheer, help each other into their uniforms, making us promise that we will sing and whistle to wish them good luck and… march off. Just like that. No final bow. Just like a passing by ghost train. This and now is just a station, now it’s time to leave.
Catching the last glimpse of the four pals though a dirty old window on the third of the barracks, you really do feel like you’ve just travelled through the time itself.
Pals – The Irish at Gallipoli runs until September, 6th. Tickets are flying away, to avoid disappointment…