Staging a play about the campaign for marriage equality was never going to be an easy feat. The complexities of legislation, government and inter-community politics hardly make for light entertainment, so it’s remarkable that A Day In May, sort of adapted for the stage from Charlie Bird’s book of the same name by Colin Murphy, is so consistently enjoyable.
I say ‘sort of adapted’ because another book may have come into play in the writing of A Day In May, that being Ireland Says Yes, by the trio at the top of the Yes Equality campaign, Grainne Healy, Brian Sheehan and Noel Whelan, which also provides a palatable version of the campaign’s complexities.
Half of the entertainment in watching this show, for me anyway, came from the fictionalisation of their characters. Not everyone will have the same knowledge of the real people, so Murphy delivers a composite affair. Instead of the real activists, the characters who represent the leaders of the movement – mainly the movers and shakers in Marriage Equality and GLEN – are a kind of catch-all crew, created to simplify the story enough for an audience that ultimately wants a feel-good experience, with a some broadly drawn conflict and obstacles for our heroes to overcome along the way.
The central component of the Yes Equality campaign was the telling of personal stories, to get the “million in the middle” to connect to our humanity. It was a tactic that worked brilliantly and did so again with the recent referendum to repeal the eighth amendment, and it works well in this show too. At intervals, each activist character breaks away to become one of the people who testified about their experiences as LGB people in Ireland, before and during the referendum, for Charlie Bird’s book, and it is these moments that provide the show’s real heart.
They are stories of bullying and rejection, courage and tenacity, struggle and acceptance, and ultimately they’re stories of love. One of them, about a woman and her father both coming to terms with her sexuality as she went around the country campaigning on the Yes Equality bus, is deeply touching. Another protest song, based on a YouTube video posted by a young gay man during the referendum, taps into the collective anger the LGB community had to damp down as we went door to door, asking people to vote for our basic human right to equality
Indeed, the song made me think this show would work well as a musical. It ends with the entire cast singing ‘She Moved Through The Fair’, with it’s lyric ‘It will not be long, love, ’til our wedding day’, and it had me thinking of the barricades in Les Mis. At curtain call, the audience I saw it with couldn’t leap to their feet fast enough.
As LGBT people, we remember that day in May. The feeling that went with it was overwhelming and hard to put into words, and the following day we just went on with our mundane lives in a wholly changed Ireland. A Day In May seeks to stir that feeling up once more and to pay tribute to the people who brought that day about, rather than the politicians who will always want to take the credit. It does so, not only in telling the story of the activists who fought for equality, but in telling the stories of ordinary people, who simply stood up and said ‘I am’.
It’s only on for one more night (in this run anyway), so see it this evening if you can. You’re guaranteed laughter, tears, and waves of that unnamable collective feeling we had on May 24, 2015, once more.
‘A Day In May’ is on for one more performance, tonight at The Olympia Theatre. All profits go to Pieta House’s therapy service for young LGBT people at the BeLonG To LGBT youth organisation in Dublin. Tickets here.
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