BWW Review: THE ROARING BANSHEES at Smock Alley Theatre
The Roaring Banshees - Unpredictable and Explosive
Writers Peter McGann & John Morton have let loose The Roaring Banshees, part two of their Ripping Yarn Trilogy. The trilogy celebrates the centenary years of Ireland's independence. Part one: The Hellfire Squad successfully premiered in 2016 and told the tale of Micheal Collins' assassins. They are currently working on their final installment, The Folklore Commission.
The Roaring Banshees are a fictionalised branch of Cumann na mBan, an Irish republican women's paramilitary organisation active during the Irish War of Independence and Civil War. Outlawed by the Irish Free State and sorely betrayed by both the Irish and English factions, the clan of 7 cross the pond and set up shop in Chicago.
Nineteen twenty three: prohibition and gang warfare. Johnny Torrio's ring vs the North Side Gang. Life in the Windy City is no less turbulent than the bloodbath they left behind in Ireland. Instead of 'cleaning up their act' and being satisfied with setting up a shebeen serving poteen (using a sacred family recipe), their clandestine talents are stoked to form a volatile clot in an already strained gangland artery.
Seven proficient, resilient and feisty women, fiercely loyal to each other and garbed with dubious morals: the nun, the showgirl, the carpenter, the chemist, the nurse, the politician, and the chief. The splendid cast had an absolute field day playing their unsavory characters, who despite the (imagined) massacres were mesmerizing to watch.
The success of this play hinged on the ability of these ladies to be convincing gangsters in a male-dominated arena. They not only achieved this feat with flying colours but were even more chilling when they reverted after each rumble to their motherly demure selves. Brava to Nessa Matthews ('Red' Alice Bannion), Ali Fox (Kitty 'The Knife' McGillicutty) , Clodagh Mooney Duggan (Bernadette McGurk), Aoife Spratt (Flossie 'The Farmer' Farrell), Laura Brady (Concepta Bloom), Amy Dunne (Molly Mallone), Áine Ní Laoghaire (Síona Ní gCopaleen) and an effusive nod to Kilkenny's Devious Theatre from whence this elite company hail.
Director Sarah Baxter collaborated beautifully with McGann and Morton to create a production that is stylish and gripping as well as uproarious and horrific. The playbill was particularly classy and do look out for the fabulous posters of each assassin. The costumes were a perfect match for each distinctive personality and the music swayed hypnotically from American jazz & blues to Irish legends including John McCormack. With the set and props pared down to the bare essentials, our imaginations were let loose and I was vaguely surprised not to be sprayed with blood when the lights came up.
Any fan of mobster movies, TV or theater will heartily relish The Roaring Banshees. In fact this would make a great movie. Every delicious element is included in this unpredictable and explosive production: sharp attire and cigarettes, drugs and guns, gang rivalries and treachery. And the prescribed grisly murders, this time perpetrated by 7 lovely ladies who wouldn't harm a fly. But can they roar!