42: Double Cross

2 May

I seem to have a thing about Irish playwrights. Although today’s play didn’t feel Irish. Perhaps it’s because the two Irish characters denied their roots and fabricated an English crustiness that would put the upper crust to shame.

Thomas Kilroy’s Double Cross is a biographical play in that it’s about two real people and deals with historical events, but it’s predominantly a work of fiction. In his preface Kilroy says that he yoked Brendan Bracken and William Joyce together because of the “notion that two men who so spectacularly denied and concealed their native origins might dramatize the deformities of nationalism more effectively than two patriots”.

yellow book and grey shirt

The play is set in WWII when Brendan Bracken was Minister of Information under Churchill and William Joyce was living in Germany working as a chief commentator on German Radio (he was even awarded a War Service Cross by Hitler). Kilroy has written the play intending for the two men to be played by the same actor, so that their mirroring is more apparent. Two other actors play all the other roles.

The characters all address the audience at times, sometimes as narrators:

ACTOR: (Narrator) Ladies and gentlemen, this is the story of two men who invented themselves.

ACTRESS: (Narrator) When a man wipes out his past and invents his own future he may have criminal or artistic tendencies.

ACTOR: On the other hand he may be simply acting out a condition of the culture from which he is trying desperately to escape.

and, later:

ACTRESS: Ladies and gentlemen! We cannot vouch for the accuracy of anything that is going to follow –

ACTOR: Even of what is verifiable in the history books –

ACTRESS: It has been put together to make a point.

This use of direct address serves to quickly establish scenes and historical timelines, as well as distancing the audience from identifying too closely with any of the characters.

I knew nothing of Bracken or Joyce and found their stories interesting but not engrossing. What was more interesting for me was the way that Kilroy structured this play to tell a huge story encompassing countries, war, identity and sexual peccadilloes, all in a densely intelligent way. Double Cross wasn’t an easy read, but it has left me feeling as if I have achieved something and learnt something new.

Publisher: Gallery Books

Cast: 2M, 1F or more if characters aren’t doubled.

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