Saturday, March 24, 2007

Bloody Sunday: Tales from the Saville Inquiry

On Friday night, Eva and I went to the Liffey Player's production of Bloody Sunday: Tales from the Saville Inquiry at Pumphouse Theatre. Here's the review I posted at Calgary Arts Development:

The Liffey Players tackled an astonishingly ambitious project when they took it upon themselves to produce Bloody Sunday: Tales from the Saville Inquiry. The playwright, Richard Norton-Taylor gathered testimony from over 1000 inquiry witnesses, which he condensed into this courtroom drama.

This could not have been an easy play to produce and it is certainly not an easy play to watch. There are a number of reasons for this.

Firstly, this is not fiction. Bloody Sunday is the dramatization of a four-year long inquiry into the events of the 1972 shootings of 26 Irish civilians by British troops. One cannot help but realize the enormity of the impact that this event had upon Irish history and upon the lives of individuals. At times during the play, photographs are projected to highlight points made in the statements being reviewed. These are graphic photos of bloodshed; they are real and they are disturbing.

Secondly, this is a courtroom drama in the strictest sense. The dramatic possibilities are all contained only within the words of the testimonies by the witnesses. This could actually have been produced as a radio play, as the entire production is essentially talking heads. This has both the power of bringing the words of the witnesses to the forefront (and they are very powerful words), but also has the shortcoming of offering nothing in the way of relief from the onslaught of those words.

At times I was confused by the testimony which described where witnesses were geographically in relation to the troops and to city landmarks. A blueprint of the Bogside area where the event occurred would have been enormously helpful in understanding the implications of some of the testimonies. This could have been quite easily done, as sections of statements were already routinely projected on the backstage during the play.

Lastly, the play runs two and a half hours long. For most theatre-goers, myself included, this is simply too long to endure. I understand that two and a half hours is a mere fraction of the 4 years that the actual inquiry spanned, and I admire how Norton-Taylor was able to glean what were presumably the most dramatic moments from those four years, but I believe that this play could have done with still more judicious editing.

The Liffey Players really did quite a remarkable job in producing this play, and it must have been an onerous undertaking, but I think that most of the audience became very restless partway through the second act. I drifted off a few times, and my daughter claims to have heard somebody behind her snoring at one point.

The Liffey Players are obviously very committed to bringing the full story of Bloody Sunday to the world, and for this they are to be commended. Ultimately though, the play was simply too long.

An additional note strictly for the pleasure of readers of Bad Tempered Zombie - Eva says that even when she was zoned out during the tedious parts of the play, she was afraid not to pay attention or her old math teacher would surely kick her ass. Though she was aware that the actor playing the main lawyer was not her math teacher, the similarities were too creepy to ignore.


John Mutford said...

Great review. I understand what you mean when a good story just grows weary. Some can pull it off and the time you've committed doesn't even occur to you, but at others you just wish they chopped it down to size.

Is Eva totally sure it wasn't her math teacher? An actor could pull off the role of math teacher you know.

Evelyne said...

It is a great review! And I'm sure that 2 hours and an half is too long for any play even the coolest one!

Poor Eva! That's scary when you see someone who looks like someone you know (and it is even worst when that person was your math teacher!)

Allison said...

That was an excellent review Barb. Its a shame when length in a play or film and takes away from the story. Which brings me to one of my rules of life. Never watch any picture over 2 hours. I do bend this from time to time, but most stories (I think) can fit into that.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

That's true, John. I came away with the main emotion being that the play was too long, which detracted from the importance of the historical event.
Never thought about the possibility of Eva's math teacher being a mole from the acting community. Now that's frightening.

Yeah Evelyne, even with a few explosions and car chases, 2.5 hours is too long.
The only thing that would have been scarier was if the guy looked like Eva's old gym teacher.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Wow, simultaneous postings, Al! Two hours is an excellent benchmark and that's a good rule to live by. The length really did take away from the story, which as you say is a real shame because it was an important event.

Deb said...

Two and a half hours would be painful. Poor Eva, traumatized by a math teacher...they are scary.

mellowlee said...

Awesome review Barb :O) Eva's comment was too funny!

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Not as scary as some gym teacher's Deb, although thankfully Eva's gym teacher this year is really reasonable, even if she does have lady abs.

Thanks Mel - that kid of mine is incorrigible.

Toccata said...

Hey quit picking on us poor defenseless math teachers!

It's tough when a play becomes too long because once the restlessness of others kicks in that too distracts from the production.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

That's true, Toccata, but sometimes the squirming of the others helps keep you awake.

Poor math teachers get no respect.

Dale said...

I've been to operas that lasted 6 hours but felt like a couple of moments and to 90 minute critcally adored pieces that seemed like wasted days and wasted nights.

If something's done well, the length of it doesn't matter but that said, I enjoy the freedom I give myself of walking out if it's interminable.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

6 hour opera, Dale? The Ring Cycle? Did they present that all in one go?

You're right, of course, the presentation makes all the difference, and when you just have people sitting in a courtroom talking, there's not a lot to distract you from your watch.