Rose Upon The Blood is an Enthralling, Affecting Play
The 1916 Easter Rising was a violent episode in Ireland’s history which saw the deaths of almost 500 people, half of them civilians. Through a mixture of live music and powerful acting, Flush Ink Productions‘ A Rose Upon the Blood by Paddy Gillard-Bentley evokes the passion, struggle, and loss of that time.
A Rose Upon the Blood focuses on the wedding of Grace Gifford Plunkett, a political cartoonist who was active in the Republican movement in Ireland. Grace married her sweetheart, Joseph Plunkett, hours before he was executed by the British for his role in the rebellion.
The play unfolds in two parts. The first half is a prison cell shared by Grace and Rosie O’Leary, a Dublin widow arrested for stealing bread. The second half flashes back to the day of the wedding. Under the watchful eye of a prison guard, Grace and her new husband are allowed to spend ten minutes together before he is executed.
I was immediately drawn into the lives of these two different women who share so much despite differences in class and education. Julia Krauss, as Grace, was dignified and elegant while conveying deep conviction and suffering. Rosemary Doyle, as Rosie, was full of bluster and childlike awe as she realizes that her cellmate is a folk hero of the Rebellion.
I loved how Rosie begs to hear the famous story of the Grace and Joseph’s wedding directly from the bride herself. Her desire to brag about their encounter and her brush with celebrity to her neighbours was completely believable. Today she would have asked to take a selfie together and posted it to her Snapchat story.
I was even more enthralled by the encounter between Grace and Joe, played by Conor Ling. The actors powerfully demonstrated the intense emotions between the two lovers through small gestures and glances. I found myself on the edge of my seat as their last ten minutes together unfolded in real time.
The Red Sandcastle Theatre’s small darkened storefront on Queen Street East was a great location for the play. It felt slightly cramped and claustrophobic and made me feel like I was there in Dublin’s Kilmainham Gaol, known as the Irish Bastille. The fact that we were so close to the actors heightened the sense of intimacy.
I also liked how Gillard-Bentley used well-known Irish music, played and sung by Jake Hiebert as The Musician, to bookend the story.
My only complaint was that a few times I was distracted from the somber mood by the noise of the streetcar and the kids buying ice cream next door. But, all in all, A Rose Upon the Blood took me to another world and brought it to life for me.
- A Rose Upon the Blood is playing until June 25, 2016 at Red Sandcastle Theatre (922 Queen Street East)
- Shows run Thursday through Saturday at 8pm
- Tickets are $20/Artists $15 and are available at the door or by calling the box office at 416-845-9411
Photo provided by the company.