Prisoner of the Crown
Thu May 29 2008
Photograph: Gerry Goodstein
Time Out Ratings :<strong>Rating: </strong>2/5
Roger Casement was hanged for treason by England in 1916, and his guilt has never been in question. During World War I, Casement—knighted for his humanitarian reports on the brutalization of native workers by the rubber barons of the Congo and Peru—traveled to Germany in an unsuccessful attempt to mobilize Irish POWs to revolt against England. Given his past accomplishments, however, it seems likely that he would have been spared the noose if not for the so-called “Black Diaries”: personal journals, circulated by the government, in which Casement documented his taste for getting rogered by sailors and native boys.
Prisoner of the Crown attempts to limn the final chapter of this sorry affair, but its production at the Irish Rep seems both a trial and an error. The late Richard F. Stockton’s 1972 biodrama is well-meaning but also turgid and dated, especially in Ciarán O’Reilly’s self-conscious staging. A few of the actors acquit themselves well, notably Philip Goodwin as Casement and John Windsor-Cunningham as his arch, villainous English prosecutor. But as it alternates between 12 Angry Men–style jury-room deliberations and historical reenactments, the play proves wearyingly evasive on key points (the legitimacy of the diaries, the morality of Casement’s revolutionary stance) and excessively blunt on others (the malice of the Crown attorneys, the homophobia of the jurors). If Sir Roger’s case is to be heard today, it needs better representation.