Prague Fringe 2018
Caroline Burns Cooke plays Leanne Greys, in the fictitious retelling of the infamous true story of the “Kerry Babies Tribunal”. The case took hold of the Irish public in 1984, due to the unspeakable horror of a baby boy washed onto shore and a convenient scapegoat of a “fallen” woman who had an affair with a married man. In the play, as it happened in real life, the case takes heartbreaking twist and turns, with two dead baby boys, a media story of super-fecundation, forced confessions and a tribunal which, at the time, was described as “putting womanhood on trail”.
The set is bare, simple and dark a beautiful reflection of the times being portrayed. The main drive behind this play is the emotional punch it packs and performance of Burns Cooke. Oh and what a performance it is. Taking on multiple characters to encompass, telling the story, explaining the political and social situation of the time, portraying the inner monologue of the characters and good old fashioned acting out scenes, Burns Cooke does not let up for a moment. From the moment she crawls onto the stage muttering the lord’s prayer, she is bringing you along for the ride. This is not to say that the whole play it total doom and gloom, there are perfectly timed moments of levity to ease the tension. At times you would be forgiven for forgetting you are in the middle of a tale of woe. My personal favorite bringer of calm was the character Kate, “the radical lesbian feminist”, who told the story from a modern day perspective, to help the audience ease out of the very intense experience.
Although the play has been running for two years, it is hard to watch this performance without Ireland’s current transformation looming large in the back of your mind. Many shows can try to be “relevant”, few can do it with as much subtly and power. Perhaps this lies in the fact that the play is not about the most recent debate in Ireland. Instead it is a snapshot of time in Ireland when to be a sexual woman was to be a social pariah. In this way And The Rope Still Tugging At Her Feet becomes almost timeless, almost as if to hold up the adage “those who forget history are doomed to repeat it”. Thankfully Ireland remembered its history.
At one point the radical lesbian feminist Kate gave a call to “repeal the 8th” to loud applause of the audience and to my own tears. In truth I cried a lot during this play, it hit me hard and personally. For an Irish Expat who was away from home during the debate and the vote, it connected me to home in a way that being glued to my computer screen could not replicate and provided me with some desperately needed cathartics.
Theatre that is politically relevant and cathartic? What’s not to love.