When the opportunity arose for me to see Under the Hawthorn Tree, I naturally jumped at the opportunity. Like many of my peers, Marita Conlon-McKenna’s novel series of the same name became the vehicle through which my fascination with Irish history came to bloom at such an early age. After setting foot in the MAC on Friday night, it became clear that this was not something that I alone had experienced. The theatre was full of people of all ages and the theatre buzzed with an eagerness to learn and share some sort of nostalgia that was not their own.
The tale tells of the struggle of three siblings who embark on a journey across Ireland during The Great Famine in search of their unknown relatives and faced several threatening obstacles: disease, fever, the workhouses, and even the turning of a blind eye by their neighbouring countries. Despite its serious subject matter, this family friendly production allows for some brief moments of relief thanks to well delivered witty one liners and the innocent reactions of a child who has been thrown into a situation they never expected or intended to ever find themselves in.
The circular wooden performance platform was a subtle yet effective choice in capturing the adventure from beginning to end. Surrounded by a band that performed Garth McConaghie’s eerie, yet delightful Celtic-based score and accompanied by some chilling harmonies from the three ‘children’, the audience were flung back to 1845’s Ireland at the height of its disaster as soon as the curtain was drawn.
James McFetridge’s lighting played a massive part in the show also. The way that a setting could be entirely crafted from nothing but a bare stage and a few lights flickering and dancing across it – whether it be to mimic a stream, or even a field – really helped set the tone for an entire scene and transformed the room. The combination of such a magical atmosphere and gripping storyline almost made me afraid to turn away for fear I might miss something.
I was impressed at just how much of such a captivating story could be told in just over an hour. Paul Bosco McEneaney’s direction along with Carlos Pons Guerra’s choreography allowed for a smooth and routinely transition from scene to scene as we followed the characters through the ups and downs of their journey. I must applaud the cast for giving it their all without so much as stopping to take a breath.
Running until October 7th, Under The Hawthorn Tree is a story of family, struggle, perseverance… but most importantly, it is a story of hope. And I am very confident that it will be successful in its attempt to spark curiosity and conversation in generations both new and old.