Originally published on The Reviews Hub
Butterflies and Bones
Project Arts Centre, Dublin
In recent months, Irish stages have been awash with productions exploring 1916 and where we stand on the events of that year now, in 2016, a hundred years later. There have been productions about the Easter Rising, productions about the creation of the state we live in now, and productions about Roger Casement. As one might imagine, after nine months of this, the theme is getting worn and fewer avenues are left to be discovered. However, Butterflies and Bones: The Casement Project, created by Fearghus Ó Conchúir as part of Project Arts Centre’s 50th anniversary programme, puts paid to any such ideas of staleness. An electric and insightful work, Butterflies and Bones conveys the human behind the history with skill and passion.
Roger Casement (formerly Sir Roger Casement; he was stripped of his title before his execution for his involvement in Irish revolutionary activity, including the 1916 Rising) was a British peer, and Irish nationalist figure and all-round enigmatic historical figure. However, alongside his political life, there is his personal life. As a gay man in early 20th century Ireland, Casement had a carefully hidden portion of himself that was only later discovered in a number of diaries. Butterflies and Bones effectively reminds the audience of this; that Casement was not just a political or revolutionary figure, but a person too.
Ó Conchúir’s choreography (created in conjunction with the performers) is evocative and intense, conveying the formal public Roger Casement, and the raw, open private Casement. Introducing strong elements of each performer’s personal dance style into the performance, and then creating segments in which they adopt each others’ movements, the choreography creates a strong ensemble that portrays Roger Casement as a multi-faceted character. One of the most powerful elements of this, when combined with Alma Kelliher’s expressive sound design, comes through in the undercurrent of fear and threat portrayed almost throughout the performance. Even in moments of heady ecstasy, there is a threat lingering in the atmosphere, whether of being discovered in his republican activities or in his personal life.
Working with dance styles reminiscent of those such as Lucinda Childs’ 1970s/1980s postmodern choreography, The Casement Project takes the theme of 1916/2016 far from any danger of nostalgia or stasis and injects it with a revolutionary quality of its own. As it breaks down, reforms and plays with a tower of speakers and two large metallic cloths (the only props), this production breaks down and represents a well known historical figure in a new and insightful light. Complimenting this performance and direction style, Ciaran O’Melia’s skilful design, both in terms of lighting and set, takes the piece far from the reach of realism and into an exciting, open and productive space.
Butterflies and Bones: The Casement Project takes a well-worn topic and re-invigorates it in innovative and engaging ways. With a wealth of dramatic, political and social history to absorb and re-invent with ingenuity and fervour, this production takes a truly new approach to the story of Roger Casement and 1916.