Blood Upon the Rose, a musical drama set against the backdrop of the 1916 Easter Rising, is an Irish love story with a fatal twist.
The show makes its way to the Hammersmith Apollo next March. In this unique show, writer and director Gerry Cunningham recounts the story of the ill-fated romance between an executed 1916 leader and a Protestant artist.
Cunningham has compared his new musical to the doomed relationship of Jack and Rose from blockbuster film Titanic. This time around, however, it tells the fraught real-life relationship of 1916 Easter Rising leader Joseph Plunkett and Grace Gifford.
The musical – which includes original songs written by Gerry and performed by members of his Celtic rock band More Power to Your Elbow – pivots on the love story of the two Dublin-born protagonists, fighting and looting scenes, as well some lighter moments.
Grace Gifford hailed from a Dublin middle-class Unionist background falls in love with leading Irish revolutionary Joseph Plunkett after they serendipitously cross paths. Both agree to marry on Easter Sunday 1916 but a rising against British Rule in Ireland has been planned for that very day.
Plunkett, vital to the Irish revolutionaries, seen as the military director of operations, managed to get Grace to sympathise with the cause and she agreed with him that they should wait until the insurrection was over before marrying.
The rising, defeated as it was, saw Plunkett and his comrades sentenced to death by execution in Kilmainham Gaol. Grace and Plunkett, unbeknownst to most, married the night of the rebellion in the prison’s small chapel.
Their wish was granted, and after exchanging wedding vows in the dark damp confines of the prison chapel, Plunkett is taken out the next morning and executed. Their tragic love story, to this very day, resonates.
The play also showcases Cunningham’s well-researched writing – he introduces us to the lesser-known internal difficulties within the Irish Volunteers. Eoin MacNeill, the leader of the Irish Volunteers, struggles to come to terms with the plans of Padraig Pearse, militant leader of the IRB, a secret republican movement that had successfully infiltrated all units of the Volunteers.
Pearse wants bloodshed in order to awaken a nation from its colonial slumber. Their clash evidently had disastrous consequences for the rising.
A superb River Tall Community Group cast of over thirty – lead by Lauren McCrory as Grace Gifford and Daniel Donnelly as Joseph Plunkett – retrace the steps of history and bring historical insight, musical theatre and a poignant touch to a story that led to the birth of the Irish nation
‘Let the Nation Rise, ‘The Hungry Eye Sees Far’ and ‘Grace’, penned in 1985 by Sean and Frank O’Meara, are among the songs that will instil and reinforce your pride in the men and women who gave everything for Irish freedom over a century ago.
“Not only Ireland, but the world should see this genuine tribute to the men of 1916,” said Betty Devlin, whose father Frank Scullin fought as part of Plunkett’s Kimmage Army in the GPO on Easter Monday 1916.