Aoibheann McCann is a native of County Donegal. She moved to Galway in 1992 where she attended NUIG.She published her first poem in 1995 in The Edge and went on to write the ‘Blow-In’s Guide to Galway’ column in Xposed , followed by the ‘Let’s Talk About..’ column in The Galway Independent. She has been working on her first novel, ‘Hippocampus’ for the past few years.
Seamus Scanlon’s three plays span a two year period of turbulent times in 1980’s Ireland
Review: The McGowan Trilogy- An Taibhearc June 6th 2015
By Aoibheann McCann
The McGowan Trilogy is a series of One Act plays published by Galway company Arlen House. The three plays span a two year period of turbulent times in 1980’s Ireland, tracking IRA assasin Victor McGowan as he moves ghost-like through his own life. The plays are ‘Dancing At Lunacy’, ‘The Long Wet Grass’ & ‘Boys Swam Before Me’and all three together run for about 2 hours in total.
The plays’ narratives unfold against the backdrop of the Good Friday Agreement in 1983. They could be described as a study of classic Republicanism in its final death throes, pictured and played-out through the deepening existential crisis of the main character.
In the first two plays we see Galway-man Victor McGowan struggling through the final days of the troubles. Irrespective of the changing political landscape, Victor is on a mission and is unstoppable. The third play gives the audience a fractured insight into the possible pathology of Victor’s actions and offers a path to understanding the hardened motivation of this cold-blooded killer.
I knew nothing about the play before I went except the ‘M’ in the main character’s name stood for murder. Generally, Irish people find it hard to talk about Northern Ireland and the associate commonplace violence that permeates all levels of that society. Not so with the McGowan trilogy, where the violence exists and is examined front and centre to the main story. I went to see the matinee of the trilogy on Saturday 6th June. The play was staged by ‘Wolf meets World’ and ‘Victor and DB productions. Directed by Adrian Lavelle, it was written by local writer Seamus Scanlon, who is now based in New York. Lavelle’s screenwriting past is obvious through in his directing of the Victor McGowan Trilogy, confronting the audience with acts of extreme violence normally the preserve of TV and cinema in modern times. But it is Seamus Scanlon’s writing and choice of soundtrack that shine out in the production, it is full of dark humour reminiscent of the likes of Martin McDonagh and Quentin Tarantino in his treatment of such a macabre subject. The humour reaches full flight when Victor tackles the barman about the sale of Walker’s crisps in the bar; he disapproves as they are deemed to be ‘Brit’ crisps.
I met with writer Seamus Scanlon sometime after seeing the production and began by asking Seamus the source of his inspiration for the work. I was interested to learn how he had gained such an insight into the nuances of life as a republican soldier. Seamus explained he had worked in both Dundalk and Belfast, during which time he had met and talked with many casualties of the troubles. His research included probing discussions with ex IRA and INLA men who were broken, both by what they had seen and what they had done. As part of his research, he also interviewed a therapist who explained the levels of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder she had seen in ex- paramilitaries, a condition often heard discussed in relation to soldiers but rarely guerilla forces.
Overall the crowdfunded production itself was enjoyable, though, at times, the play strained to stay within the bounds of the professional. Indeed it is revealed on the programme that many of the actors came from amateur theatre. However, the main character played by Luke Morgan has a definite future in acting and plays Victor in a coherent and robust form. Also Jackie Roantree (with a professional acting past) plays Victor’s mother very convincingly. It is her appearance in the Third Part, Boys Swam before Me, that gives us an insight into why Victor is capable of the violence that he appears to revel in in Part One, Dancing at Lunacy.
The other male actors who appear in Part One, Paul Dunning, Paul O’Brien, Eric Martyn gave it a good shot, but need to get their Northern Accents up to speed. I am assured they are working on it for their next performance. Aoife Martyn in Part Two, The Long Wet Grass, shows great promise but her performance was bereft of a professional edge so critical for convincing theatre. That said, the scene moved me where she pleads for her life, being punished by Victor for a moment of kindness she showed to a dying British soldier.