The discovery inspired theatre critic turned playwright Jane Coyle to write a fictional story: The Lantern Man. Johnny has returned home to Dublin wounded in the World War One battlefield in France. Inheriting a set of lantern slides taken by a relative employed as an army photographer, he screens the images in a local club in a bid to give a glimpse of loved ones to families.
“A credit to Ireland my arse!”
Johnny (played by Shane Whisker) finds that his lantern show stirs up negative emotions in some viewers, while giving others hope that they can find out the truth about their dead children. These twin narratives – along with the exposure of several secrets in Johnny’s past – and family dynamics that wouldn’t look out of place in an episode of Eastenders or The Jeremy Kyle Show – slowly propel the play towards its climax.
The women are strong and fairly open minded while the men constantly teeter on the brink of failure. Mrs Haughey (Libby Smyth) is Johnny’s landlady, a character who morphs from a stern busybody to become the play’s comic turn before she stops hovering at the door of her parlour and fades from view.
Along the way we meet Joe (Noel McGee) who moved his wife Sylvia (Julie Kinsella) and daughter Christina (Hannah Coyle) from London to Dublin. On the other posher side of the river, fur-coated Alice (Cathy Brennan-Bradley) is also affected by the war. While the menfolk fought side by side, can their families overcome class and ideological differences to remember and honour them together?
A mysterious man called Wainwright (James Doran) – who at first I thought was going to be a Russian spy – adds to the intrigue. With a cast of seven, few actors other than Johnny are given the space to develop their characters and shine.
The action mostly rotates around two or three clumps of furniture built in different corners of the stage. Director Stephen Beggs makes good use of the space around the audience during the lantern show scene.
During September The Lantern Man is touring venues in Newry (Tue 13), Antrim (Wed 14), Armagh (Thu 15), Derry (Sat 17), Downpatrick (Wed 21), Coleraine (Thu 22), Strabane (Fri 23) and Lisburn (Sat 24).