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The Non-Stop Connolly Show review at Finborough Theatre – ‘rousing and reflective’

The cast of The Non-Stop Connolly Show at the Finborough Theatre, London. The cast of The Non-Stop Connolly Show at the Finborough Theatre, London.

Before being executed for his role in the 1916 Easter Rising, socialist James Connolly had a huge influence on Irish republican thinking. His turbulent life is the subject of this sprawling six part play cycle, which receives its first full production in the UK since appearing at the Almost Free Theatre in the mid-1970s.

Written by politically engaged power-couple Margaretta D’Arcy and John Arden, the show’s lyrical, rhymed verses cast Connolly as a heroic figure, persevering with every step of his mythic journey. Despite their reverence for the subject, the script’s first two instalments are not uncritical of the man, painting him as driven but directionless, practical but easily influenced.

Navigating these contradictions, Aidan O’Neill makes an affable Connolly, somehow self-effacing in his own story. When not agitating for radical reform, he demonstrates a melodic singing voice, especially on a warm duet with Lucia McAnespie as his wife Lillie. Seemingly introduced as a starry-eyed love interest, she quickly develops into a compelling character in her own right, deploying her intellect and political commitment to become her husband’s moral and financial support.

Though the production’s script-in-hand presentation inevitably shows some rough edges, the occasional lost thread or creative mispronunciation cannot drag down the spirited performances. Director Shane Dempsey ensures the 10-strong company never becomes sedentary, getting them out of  – and on to – their seats at every opportunity. The result is a rousing piece of political theatre, and a fitting reflection on the struggles of a century ago.

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Timely revival exploring the life of a key figure in the Irish republican movement