A memorable poker game returns to the Donegal stage next week

Conor Malone's "The State of the Nation" returns to Balor Arts Centre

Carolyn Farrar

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Carolyn Farrar

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carolyn.farrar@donegaldemocrat.com

A memorable poker game returns to the Donegal stage next week

Charlie Bonner, centre, in a rehearsal last year with Conal Gallen and the rest of the cast of “The State of the Nation”, a play by Conor Malone.

Donegal audiences will have another opportunity to see one of the most thought-provoking poker games ever staged when “The State of the Nation” returns to the Balor Arts Centre in Ballybofey next week.

In "The State of the Nation", Charles Haughey, Michael Collins, James Larkin and Thomas Davis meet up to play an unforgettable game of poker in the afterlife.

"The State of the Nation", a play by Conor Malone, will be preceded on the night by a staged reading of "The Fund", a radio play by Conor that won third prize in the 2015 RTÉ Radio One PJ O’Connor awards.

The double bill of "The State of the Nation" and "The Fund" return to the Balor at 8pm on May 5th and 6th.

The productions will return to the Balor after two performances at the Civic Theatre in Tallaght on May 2nd and 3rd, and just before they travel to Derry for a performance at The Playhouse on Sunday, May 7th.

"It’s clicking nicely," a busy Conor said. “The fact we’ve remounted it with the same four actors means they got up to speed quickly.”

"The State of the Nation" features Conal Gallen as Charles Haughey, Cillian Ó Gairbhi as Michael Collins, Peter Byrne as James Larkin and James Lawne as Thomas Davis.

Conor is directing the current production of the play.

The play was originally produced last year as part of Donegal County Council’s 1916 centenary commemorations. Dave Gibney of the Mandate Trade Union called the play, "An important contribution to social, political and cultural discussion in a contemporary Ireland, blending history, facts and humour." 

Conor Gallen plays Charles Haughey in “The State of the Nation”.

Conor said that last year, “we thought it was an awful pity to leave it there and not go out again”. This year’s production is supported by seed money from the office of the Donegal County Council Arts Officer, Traolach Ó Fionnáin.

"It’s fingers crossed that we make enough on box office to cover rest of the costs," Conor said. But everyone involved believes in the production: "We feel it’s worth doing again. We want to do it again," he said.

These four towering figures in Irish history talk during their card game about the state of the nation and broader political issues. As the game draws on the conversation heats up, covering topics from 1916 to Civil War politics, water charges to hospital waiting lists.

But with so much happening in the year or so since Conor wrote the play, he thought the conversation needed an update.

"Obviously, the first one ran last June and a lot has happened in the meantime, so we want to keep it current," Conor said. Brexit; Trump; the €13 billion that Apple is said to owe the Irish Government – and the Irish government’s reluctance to accept the European Commission decision on the money; the protests at Apollo House – all of these and more now find their way into the lively discussion around the poker table in the new production.

"If we thought people would listen to it we could nearly do a weekly podcast, there's that much going on," Conor said.

Still, "The State of the Nation" is not a polemic, he said. The strong, very different political views of the four characters means the subjects under discussion are explored from different angles.

Conor said he hopes the work gives the audience "something they will talk about in the bar afterwards, or at home afterwards, or at work the next day".

"If you start to talk to people about austerity, a lot of people don't want to hear it, but if you can get them thinking about it in a way that entertains … It’s a very humourous play," Conor said. "There are a lot of laughs in it, a lot of belly laughs in it.

"It’s not four guys sitting around like on Vincent Browne," Conor said. "They’re having a laugh, they’re taking the piss out of each other.

"The laughs are there but hopefully the point gets across as well," he said.

Conor’s radio play, ​"The Fund", tells the real-life story of International Monetary Fund whistleblower Davison Budhoo, whose 1988 resignation letter to the IMF ran more than 100 pages and detailed his disillusion with the organisation.

This, from the opening lines of Davison’s letter: "To me resignation is a priceless liberation, for with it I have taken the first big step to that place where I may hope to wash my hands of what in my mind’s eye is the blood of millions of poor and starving peoples."

"The Fund" has been called a reimagining of the true story of one of the most earth-shattering revelations that no-one ever heard.

"He was a whistleblower and he had some earth-shattering revelations, and they were just ignored," Conor said.