Hailed as one of the outstanding theatre events of 2016, Declan Gorman’s play The Big Fellow tells the story of Collins through the eyes of his biographer Frank O’Connor, who fought against him on the other side during the Civil War.
The show has been sponsored by ‘RTÉ Supporting the Arts’ with additional support from the Abbey Theatre literary department.
It received rave reviews on the occasion of its world premiere last May and now travels to 16 venues across Ireland over five weeks, beginning in Clonakilty and concluding in the Axis Arts Centre in Dublin, just a mile from the avenue named after the fallen hero.
‘If there were no wild boys, there would be no great men,’ Frank O’Connor’s mother wrote to him in 1922, during his internment as a prisoner-of-war.
Declan Gorman’s version of The Big Fellow, based on O’Connor’s writings, captures the life and times of the wildest boy of them all, as Michael Collins graduates from masterminding daredevil raids, prison breaks and escapades during the War of Independence, to commanding the official army of a newly-formed state.
Greatness did indeed follow Collins but so too did torment, tragedy and division. As an adolescent, Frank O’Connor fought against Collins’ side in the Civil War, and this twist drives the drama. Why did a brilliant young writer divert from a glittering literary career just a few years later to write a book in praise of his former enemy? No dull history lesson, The Big Fellow is an imaginative and entertaining piece of non-stop, high-energy theatre, from the action-packed opening images to its gripping conclusion. It is underscored by a powerful soundtrack composed by Colin Blakey (ex-Waterboys). Cilian McNamara, Gerard Adlum and Cillian Ó Gairbhí give outstanding performances, bringing to vivid life a nation embroiled in the excitement and turmoil of formation. Lighting is by Cillian McNamara.
The show was premiered on May 1st last at the Drogheda Arts Festival, before transferring to Smock Alley Theatre in Dublin and on to a short initial tour, concluding with a sell out one-week run at the Theatre By the Lake Festival at Gougane Barra. It now returns by popular demand.
National and local press as well as online reviewers have hailed the show as a triumph. Emer O’Kelly in the Sunday Independent described it as, ‘totally engaging ... a combination of physical energy and historical passion.’ In the Westmeath Examiner, Orla O’Dea wrote ‘A wonderful use of humour is what differentiates Gorman’s drama from other historical narratives. This is insightful, inspiring and profoundly moving drama.’
The play is produced by Co-Motion Media in association with Drogheda Arts Festival.
• The Big Fellow by Declan Gorman, at Rossmore Theatre January 24th and 25th, 8pm nightly. Tickets: 086-4481086.