'The Big House' chronicles how an Anglo-Irish family, and their big Cork house, fare following the Great War, during the War of Independence and Civil War from 1921 to 1923.
When it was first produced at the Abbey in 1926, the events it depicted were open wounds, though surprisingly it was very well received.
A mostly sympathetic portrait is given of the predicament these Anglo Irish landowners in newly independent Ireland are in – which is embodied in the daughter Kate’s (Lucy Gaskell) dilemma of being from Ireland and Irish, but also British and with no connection to the emerging Irish Free State.
The writer Lennox Robinson, who served as manager and director of the Abbey Theatre, draws on his experience growing up a Protestant in Cork.
Although his plays were frequently revived, 'The Big House' has been gathering dust in the Abbey archives for at least 75 years.
It opens on the morning of November 1918 in the grand drawing room of Ballydonal house with the Alcock family waiting the signing of the Armistice to mark the end of World War One - which has already claimed their eldest son.
Mrs Alcock (Donnelly – strong performance), a no-nonsense Hampshire woman, the impulsive Kate and her steady husband St Leger (Patrick Godfrey), who sees himself as Irish, wait with anticipation for the signal to mark the end of the War.
Their excitement is in contrast with an Irish neighbour Van O'Neill (Marty Rea) - who is not bothered and this disparity is a hint of the widening gulf yet to come.
It’s a bolshy production, there is a real explosion on stage from director Conall Morrison with the stereotypes such as the drunken butler (Derry Power), which produces plenty of laughs, not toned down.
The attractive set makes various transitions seamlessly and the lighting is thoughtful.
For many the star of the show will be Lucy Gaskell, who certainly gives full value to the confused and stubborn Kate, in what is mainly a dynamic performance, though her character does annoy.
Growing up in an Anglo Irish family she considers the qualities of her Irish side as worth having, but ultimately she feels the ‘them and us’ can’t be ignored and she moves from wanting to identify with her Irish neighbours to her desire to be accepted for her own culture.
This emotional play carries a message for today’s changing Ireland, with the northern conflict now history, and with immigration on the rise, highlighting more than ever the need for a pluralistic society.
But most of all it’s a well written play, and if you have any interest in Irish political history, you'll enjoy this entertaining production.