The Squad, originally nicknamed the Twelve Apostles, was a real life unit that were founded by Michael Collins in the run up to the War Of Independence. Their main goal was to counteract British Intelligence at this time, through means mostly focusing on assassinations. They did, as we term it in the play ‘the dirty work of a nation.’ Although they didn’t exclusively have twelve members, the Squad rotated membership and to this day, the full extent of Squad members isn’t entirely known.
It was a job, with a wage and many outsiders, men not fit for many other purposes, gravitated towards this assassination unit. While there weren’t any documented female members of the Squad, a lot of Collins central intelligence agents were women. And more so than their male counterparts of the time, they were written out of the subsequent history.
We came up with the idea when discussing Inglourious Basterds and the men-on-a-mission adventure movies that inspired it, and decided to write an Irish version of those stories. We found the perfect subject matter: an alternate secret history of the origins of Michael Collins’ infamous hit squad.
The codename of the squad itself, the name of our villain Francis Dashwood, and the fire-and-brimstone tone came from setting it at the foot of the Wicklow Mountains near the notorious Hellfire Club. We started working on it in a flurry of excitement back in 2009. It was a Western and a War yarn at once, a Commando comic on the stage. Countless movies and the untold tales of Irish history inspired it.
Thematically, we were interested in telling a story of people who were written out of subsequent Irish history. Particularly the women of the Rising and Cumann na mBan who subsequently had their roles downplayed. In the 1916 centenary year, writing a play about the fervor it created in people after the rebellion felt like an interesting take. People who wanted an important role.
This is the idea behind Kathleen Sweeney as narrator. She’s giving a voice to the voiceless, people like herself who fought for an Ireland that turned on them. Betrayal, at its essence, is what drives this story and we didn’t have to stray too far from history to utilise that. Despite our cinematic influences, making it as a play has always felt like Sean O’Casey and Dion Boucicault having a conversation mediated by Bertolt Brecht. That was the ‘highbrow’ intention anyway. The main intention was a cracking night’s entertainment. We hope you get that.
After intermittently working on it over the years, we took the script for a spin in August 2013. We did our first work in progress performance at Little Deviations: Volume 1, directed by Philip Brennan.
All the potential of the piece was there. Thanks to Artlinks support we were able to get Ken Bourke on board to provide dramaturgy for the script and he helped us develop it throughout 2015 and into this year. Getting a talented director like Sarah Baxter and getting the brilliant cast we did was the cherry on top.
For Devious Theatre’s 10th birthday in 2016, not to mention the centenary of the 1916 Rising, it felt like the right production to do. It’s like one big mish mash of ten years of Devious Theatre in one show. It’s about a motley troupe, ill resourced and against the odds, trying to tell their stories during a tumultuous time in Irish history. Fitting enough.
Peter McGann & John Morton