(Peter Crawley’s article appeared in the Irish Times, 2/12.)
“Do you think Ireland is proud of us?” a young soldier asks his friend, somewhere amid the carnage of Gallipoli, in a voice hollow and shocked. The question goes unanswered in Anu Productions’ latest, profoundly disarming evocation of our hidden histories. But it would take a particular naivety to say yes. That may be the most keenly understood tragedy of this supple performance, which vividly unearths lives that have been doubly disavowed, by national politics and by time.
Based on the testimony and letters of young Irish men who enlisted in the 7th Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, Pals is not an exhibition, an excavation nor even recreation. It’s something rarer; an imaginative and sensitive summoning.
It begins, within the generous acoustics of the National Museum’s courtyard in Collins Barracks, with something like a guided tour, an explanation of the various motivations behind the so-called “Pals” brigades, rugby teams who enlisted for king and country, or home rule, or who were persuaded with shillings. Men who wanted to belong. That the tour is interrupted by ghosts, or memories incarnate, isn’t surprising. But when an abandoned woman calls her soldier husband a “coward”, the emphasis is unexpected.