Birthright review: Dublin Fringe Festival’s most local masterpiece

Nadine Flynn’s play explores working-class tragedies exacerbated by the institutions around them, writes Henry Petrillo

Lir graduate Nadine Flynn’s Birthright began with the hushed sounds of a compact audience creaking on the wooden benches of Smock Alley Theatre, the small space and lowered stage facilitating an immediate sense of intimacy between the audience and the play itself. The production focuses on the emotional aftermath a working-class mother and daughter endure following a familial bereavement. The accents of all three actors (Sorcha Furlong, Cara Christie and Finbar Doyle) required an ear attuned to a north-side brogue. Spar shopping bags and a budget-friendly birthday cake are just two examples of the details that the play used to reinforce its familiarity with the working-class experience.

The play’s unique use of Seinfeld-style laugh tracks enabled amused interjections from an unseen audience, offering contrast to the pathos of the plot. As the story unfolds, the audience is forced to examine their own biases, particularly in considering how much they actually care about tragedy when it applies to working-class people. The overall effect does not allow the audience to remain passive, creating an inherently interactive experience. This prompts viewers to consider exactly how complicit they are in society’s refusal to acknowledge working-class realities beyond television programmes like EastEnders or Fair City. 

The common ground between hardship, gender and religion is just one of the ideas successfully dissected in the play, with one of the greatest feats being Flynn’s subtle incorporation of a holistic snapshot into the lives of the mother-daughter duo. Furlong and Christie’s deft acting steals the show, compensating for an adequate performance by Doyle in his portrayal of an ex-priest turned humanist preacher. 

Birthright effortlessly captures the essence of Ireland’s changing identity and the issues that remain unresolved. The play also portrays an air of sophistication on behalf of the organisers of the Dublin Fringe Festival, as it reflects their support for content that is both relevant and self-critical. This is a play for Dublin by dubliners and hopefully it will be returning to the stage again soon.

Birthright is in Smock Alley Theatre until September 15 as part of the 2019 Dublin Fringe Festival.

Henry Petrillo

Henry Petrillo is the Deputy Sex & Relationships Editor for Trinity News.