Written & Perfomed by Owen O'Neill
Directed by Guy Masterson
WORLD PREMIÈRE: Assembly Theatre, Edinburgh Festival, August 31st 2008 (directed by Rachel O'Riordan)
NEW YORK PREMIÈRE: 59E59, Manhattan, 2009
LONDON PREMIÈRE: PARK THEATRE, LONDON MAY 17 - JUNE 11 2016 (Directed by Guy Masterson)
Donegal. Ulster. Present day. Catholic priests are disappearing.
One man knows why and he wants to confess. His confession is brutal. It is bloody. It is frank...
He tells us it's not murder. It's retribution. It's absolution.
PARK THEATRE - LONDON - 17/05/16 - 11/06/16
ISLINGTON GAZETTE - 27/05/17
Dealing with the darkest of taboo subjects (the systematic abuse of very young children in Donegal by Catholic priests), this was a brilliant piece of theatre that had the audience spellbound by O'Neill's electric delivery and Guy Masterson's sureness of direction.
In an intensely controlled and physical performance, O'Neill took us thorough the horrors of broken trust, manipulation, Church cover-ups, community denial, corrupted relationships and brutal murder.
At times there was a chilling matter-of-fact quality about the stories he was telling, occasionally peppered with some very dark humour.
This was theatre at its best - confrontational, shocking and technically superb.
The end was full of twists and revelations that you must go and see. (David Winskill - Islington Gazette - 27/05/16)
THE REVIEW HUB - 18/05/16
It's always the child's fault, their presence is tempting the priests into committing these acts of the flesh. The children should be beaten and abused, forced into learning that their souls are tainted. Only by withstanding, nay, accepting their fate can they hope to atone and repent in the eyes of the Lord. The actions of the priests only serve as an attempt to exorcise those inner demons, so in some ways, they're simply following God's will. Brought up to fear and respect the church in equal measure, the victims are never going to speak out. These children are paralysed, bewildered and convinced that they are indeed to blame, and in a church community no member of the congregation is going to convince them otherwise. Better to avoid the issue that confronts religion itself.
Owen O'Neill writes and performs Absolution, a one-man show about the only person that seems to care, that seems to be revolted and incensed by the atrocities occurring around him. Told entirely in first person, he gives an account about the steps he takes to cleanse the earth from these self-righteous frauds that call themselves men of God. Two wrongs do not make a right; nevertheless O'Neill's brand of twisted hero, avenging angel aims to bring order to the chaos, shine light onto the dark and smite down those that have sinned. Very Old Testament.
O'Neill has a detailed knowledge of his character's background, motivations and emotional state. Without revealing the true reason for his vendetta until the very end, he exudes an almost psychopathic level of calm. Except when he is recounting the encounters between him and the priests, where the blood boils, spit flies and his knuckles tense with murderous intent. Sara June Mills' set is plain, almost monastic in its simplicity. The focus is entirely on O'Neill who, under Guy Masterson's direction, puts all the emphasis in the right places - deliberate; vivid; intense. The beauty in Absolution lies in its openness and, because of this, the twist at the end is all the more unexpected. Masterson ensures that there are no frills to distract from the message, the word.
Absolution. Penance. Redemption. All ways in which one can cleanse the soul and rid themselves of their misdemeanours. As the judge, jury and executioner, O'Neill takes confession and delivers his own brand of forgiveness. It is simply an extension of the atonement that the children are subjected to. (Daniel Perks - The Reviews Hub - 18/05/16)
STAGE REVIEW - 18/05/16
"I'm not a serial killer. I'm an avenging angel."
It's not often that I'm rendered speechless (as many will attest) but Owen O'Neill's astonishing monologue which makes up the 75-minute one-man play, Absolution, at London's Park Theatre, left me agog. Whoa! I never saw that coming!
These days it is rare for a story or performance to truly shock. We've seen it all before - haven't we?
Well, no. Absolution, written and performed by O'Neill, is visceral, disturbing and profoundly unnerving, a story of one man's revenge on the sexual abuse by Ireland's Catholic priests and the collective guilt of whole communities which cover it up.
This masterpiece of storytelling is the first in a double bill of solo plays boldly directed by Guy Masterson. The second, Bill Clinton Hercules, couldn't be more different yet both deal with common themes of the abuse of power, justice, conspiracy and complicity.
Absolution is harrowing. It opens to the sounds of a mournful Johnny Cash. O'Neill, dressed in vest and trousers, is exercising in a small spartan room before he turns to us and, as he slowly dresses for the day, relates a story that chills to the bone.
Over the next hour or so we listen, utterly engrossed, as a dead-eyed and damaged man describes his crusade to impart his own brand of justice on the men who destroyed his innocence.
Court cases seem to emerge every week about priests who defiled and wrecked young lives, only to have their abhorrent crimes covered up by the church and, in many cases, the families and communities in which the clergy serve.
It's impossible not to be moved by the raw intensity of the material which is told in a simmering rage that occasionally boils over into hard physical violence. There are flashes of black gallows humour and one of the lighter moments in this dark and troubling tale finds the vigilante dangling over a well after a victim almost drags him down to hell. (Anne Cox - Stage Review - 18/05/16)
GAY STAR NEWS 18/05/16
This is undeniably an incredible performance... O'Neill sustains the intensity and drive of his character from beginning to end in this one-man confessional monologue. His focus is remarkable.
The subject matter is frank, brutal, raw. While there are a couple of (almost uncomfortable) laughs, O'Neill gives us a glimpse behind the headlines of systemic child-abuse - a glimpse into the damage done to the victims, the guilt of a community, and the men in the eye of the storm. A compelling piece of theatre. (Gareth Johnson - Gay Star News - 18/05/16
BRITISH THEATRE GUIDE 20/05/16
The setting is a stark room with a tightly-made bed, a washbasin and a small desk, very institutional; when a man appears in singlet and tracksuit bottoms pushing press-ups and mock boxing, a hard man keeping fit, you can';t help but think prison. As he speaks in what is an hour-long confessional, it becomes clear that he is indeed a killer.
'I've Got A Song To Sing' plays as an introduction, and what a song it turns out to be, for this is a play about child abuse: paedophilia among the Cathoic priesthood. It is a hard-hitting one-man show, both written and performed by Owen O'Neill, that packs more power into its 65 minutes than most full-length plays. It won both Best Play and Best Actor in New York's 2010 Irish Festival and gained critics' plaudits on 2014's Edinburgh Fringe. This new production directed by Guy Masterson is just as deserving.
O'Neill explodes with energy as he unburdens, graphically acting out incidents as he describes not one but five killings. He doesn't see himself as a murderer but an avenger who brings retribution, his actions given heavenly sanction by the Virgin Mary.
Canada, Australia, the USA - the Church has to face revelations of child abuse all over but Absolution is set in Ireland where this killer seeks out those guilty. Seeming calm and reasonable as he recounts his actions as the lights change and he re-enacts each of five killings, all priests who have abused young boys or girls, he becomes frenzied.
"I don't understand 'shallow graves'" he tells us: "people in a hurry", and explains how he tied a rope to a tree to pull himself out after digging a grave down to 9 feet where no dog or fox would dig down to the body, how he split a skull in two with a spade, how he strangled and struggled, how disposing of a body he nearly ended his own life, we are told every detail. It is horrible and gripping at the same time and in performance its sheer theatricality achieves a delicate balance, horrifying without actually making you vomit.
It';s not just about the mechanics of retribution. It is also about the culture that makes it possible for such abuse to continue. The respect for the priesthood that makes a father refuses to believe what his son tells him, the whole village that knows a boy has been abused but says nothing, yet can';t look him in the face: collusion for all kinds of reasons.
There are the priests too and their excuses: the ones who blame the child for being temptation, those who beat children after abusing them to punish them for being sinful lest they have enjoyed it and accept homosexuality, the priest who selected six-year olds because at seven the child is considered able to judge right from wrong and therefore itself sinning, the priest who saw his death as the only way of ending his sinning but thought suicide the greater sin so welcome his nemesis with a gun and a plan all prepared for his executioner.
This killer is a man who can';t wait for God to punish these priests and, as he takes things into his own hands and becomes his own avenging angel, can you entirely condemn him? Would you give him absolution?
At some point, it seems certain that this killer has himself been one of the abuse victims, that he is acting on behalf of all those like him, but O'Neill has a final twist to his plot concerning where his play is set and who this man is.
Absolution isn';t a play for the squeamish, it can be tough to watch but it is very rewarding for it has been written with feeling and is performed with passion. (Howard Loxton - British Theatre Guide 20/05/16)
LONDONIST - 21/05/16
How do you fight injustice when everybody around you is doing their best to ignore it? Why do our leaders often make such terrible mistakes? Is it possible to gain a position of power and still retain your integrity?
These, and many other crucial questions focusing on the morality of leadership, are explored in two excellent one man shows currently playing as a double bill at Park Theatre.
Both directed by Guy Masterson, Absolution by Owen O'Neil is a tale of one man trying to take on paedophiles within the Irish Catholic church singlehanded. Bill Clinton Hercules by Rachel Mariner gives us a private audience with the disgraced American president on the eve of his wife's latest presidential bid.
These portraits of two men from vastly different backgrounds are nevertheless connected through the common theme of power, and the million dollar question of if and how it can be used for the greater good.
At first glance in Absolution, Owen O'Neill's character seems a cold-hearted murderer who describes in chilling and exacting detail how he has killed several known paedophiles. The overwhelming physical force and determination needed to kill someone in cold blood is highlighted by the fact that he mimes out the killings as he describes them.
As his story continues however, it is disturbingly easy to sympathise with his aims as he delves into the story of the horrible acts committed by his victims. O'Neil is a very good storyteller, keeping us gripped with a fast-paced narrative which keeps us guessing until the very last moment.
Bob Paisley is marginally less watchable as Bill Clinton and the longer, second play drags after a while. Nevertheless the idea is good. Bill Clinton, fervently backing his wife's latest presidential campaign, gives us a potted history of his time in office and his thoughts on how the world has changed since he stepped down. Just like in reality, he never lets the politician's veneer slip from his slick speech and, as only Clinton could, his sentences are laced with saccharine sentiment, crooked smiles and drawling southern accent.
There is the inevitable reference to Monica Lewinsky and at times the narrative slips into ground that has been covered one too many times before. It is made more interesting, however, by the premise that Clinton is taking us through the story of his own presidential career through the lens of his favourite figures from the Greek myths seeing himself as a modern day Odysseus.
The brute physicality of Absolution and the carefully constructed spin of Clinton's speeches give the audience much food for thought. Does Nathan's cause excuse his actions? What truth is there in Clinton's slippery sentences? Two striking examples of the politics of morality." (Lettie McKie - Londonist - 20/05/16)
The Upcoming - 21/05/16
Odd, twisted and disturbing, this one-man show is a strangely captivating look inside the mind of a serial killer on a holy quest for vengeance.
Absolution is written and performed by multi-talented playwright, screenwriter, poet and actor Owen O'Neill. A killer invites the audience to hear him describe his work, sometimes in gruesome detail. His motivations are fully fleshed-out: to seek out and destroy evil in the form of Catholic priests who abuse children. The audience very quickly becomes part of his world, not really knowing whether to support him or condemn him.
This is a strange show and certainly not for everyone: it's dark and filled with hatred, and it's all about murder and child abuse. But It is well written and well performed - Owen O'Neill really brings the character to life. Despite the rarity of such a person, despite the over-the-top nature of the show, despite being in a theatre, it feels quite real. It is believable that the person standing so close is really the deluded, psychopathic villainous hero that he claims to be.
Whether the protagonist is a hero or villain is a point of confusion. He is certainly both, but should the audience cheer for him or condemn him? Should they be happy with his actions or disgusted? There is definitely no sympathy for his victims. It feels natural to support the outcome of stopping these people, but it still feels wrong to support this man and the way he goes about doing it. The effect makes for an engaging yet very disruptive character.
Certainly a great example of writing and acting, some might notenjoy the play simply because of its subject material but will ultimately come away with a sense of confused enjoyment. (Jim Compton-Hall - The Upcoming 21/05/16)
EDINBURGH FRINGE 2008
Set in present-day Donnegal this is an intense brutal tale about the murder of four paedophile priests by an unrepentant serial killer. Yes, it sounds dreadful but the writing is so meticulous, spare and muscular that I was instantly captivated. Gradually, inexorably, this richly varied and thrilling narrative compels one to understand and even pity both the slayer and the slain. O'Neill himself plays the murderer with an extraordinary angelic menace and I emerged from this wonderful work of art in a strange state of mind, melted by an eerie sense of lightness and rightness about the world. Everything looked beautiful suddenly and I was almost ready to pack up and go home. Nothing could rival what I'd just seen. Nothing did. (Lloyd Evans - The Spectator 20/08/08)
This play is a one hander but manages to hold the audience's attention on almost every word and movement by the actor. It is a difficult subject, one the Catholic Church would rather go away.
Alas, it seems to plague the Church with outbreaks around the world. Owen O'Neill deals with child abuse, an understatement of the horrific ordeals perpetrated on children by priests, by becoming an avenging angel, meting out justice when long overdue. If God has turned a blind eye, someone had to end these abominations.
This show is Owen O'Neill's seventh productions that he has written and performed. He is a passionate and consummate actor. He never misses a beat, never wastes a motion nor fails to deliver a stunning narrative that rises and falls with each execution. Working in a stark set, O'Neill swings through a wide range of emotions. The stage set and design often convey a sense of prison where we wonder if O'Neill has been jailed after all for his crimes. But, are they really crimes or preventive acts?
The story has a neat twist at the end, not all together surprising, but welcomed. This show should be seen by many. It is a difficult subject handled well. It is certainly Fringe First material. Don't miss it! (KN fringereview.com 01/08/08)
In this day and age of political correctness and the uproar surrounding the Catholic Church and alleged child abuse I suppose it is not surprising that we have a play on the Fringe round this topic.
Priests are dying in very nasty ways or are just plainly disappearing. ';Peter knows why and wants to tell all';. Is he a madman or does he really know something? This is a very dark almost dismal production with pockets of humour, some of which seem almost forbidden or wrong. The basic room we are looking at could be in any institution or even a prison it is so bare and stern. The single occupant of the room awakens from sleep slowly gets dressed then describes the deaths of several Priests in graphic and physical details. With one final revelation that is as startling as it is unexpected.
I know Owen O'Neill is a comedian but I have only seen his stand-up once. He is also a multi award-winning writer and actor he has both written and performs 'Absolution' which displays all his talents to their utmost. Cleverly directed by Rachel O'Riordan, whom I expect had her work cut out, having to direct Owen from whose imagination the whole thing came. It is also part of this years TTI & Guy Masterson Productions.
Praise where praise is due I would never have thought of this material as producing a fascinating, thought provoking yet funny show but it has. Owen puts 200% into the performance and must be exhausted after every show. I certainly recommend it as one to see along with 'Reasonable Doubt', 'Weights' and 'Vincent'. I have also heard great things about 'Scaramouche Jones'. (Sheila Jack - one4review.com 07/08/08)
From its shock opening to a really unexpected final twist, Absolution held every member of a packed house enthralled and eager to hear what happens next to an unnamed protagonist.
Like John Patrick Shanley's Doubt, this perfectly paced, one-man play performed by the author, goes to places that many would prefer to ignore, especially the Roman Catholic hierarchy.
Dressed in unflattering underwear in what is apparently a prison cell, our man first describes a castration and murder to get his audience in the mood for much more.
As the hour develops a pattern, this seeming psychopath talks in graphic detail of more and more gory murders, gradually donning his clothes as he does so.
Amazingly, when this ginger-haired Irishman asks the question as to whether we should see him as a serial killer or an avenging angel the answer is indisputably both.
O'Neill questions our views on religion and morality by focussing on a stream of priests who heartlessly abused children as young as six, protected by the banner of the Church and hide behind the ';secret, sacramental, confessional shield';.
This is a topical subject and Absolution will not be the last word. However, it will be one of the most powerful and considered plays about a tragedy that far too many, like the protagonist's father, would still prefer was ignored. (Philip Fisher - British Theatre Guide 06/08/08)
It's hard to believe that writer/performer of this one-man show, Owen O'Neill, is a Perrier nominated stand-up. So bleak and brutal is his vivid script, and so violently commanding the delivery that O'Neill at times is terrifying.
He portrays a man who has dished himself the ';avenging angel'; task of meting out justice to child-abusing Catholic priests. With relentless detail, O'Neill recounts the various grim accounts of their crimes and punishments, whilst the audience are left to form their own judgement on his particular method of justice.
The subject matter makes for deeply uncomfortable viewing throughout but, perhaps not unlike his character, O'Neill has found his own way of dealing with an issue that sorely needs examining. (Lucy Ribchester - The Evening News 09/08/08)
Absolution delves into one of the most controversial topics of our era: abuse perpetrated by ordained members of the Roman Catholic Church.
It presents the fictionalised testimony of one man's reaction to such acts, chronicling the murder of five priests all guilty of abusing children.
This un-named character is played by Owen O'Neill, who also wrote the hour-long monologue. He presents the audience with a complex character. There is no sidestep into background or unnecessary commentary; instead, he spends the entire time simply detailing each murder. Shades of the character reveal themselves throughout the hour, but the focus primarily remains on the 'why' and 'how' this man came to take each life.
The production's greatest asset is that it doesn't try to be anything other than a dramatisation of an individual's statement. There is no directorial commentary and the writing doesn't give the audience any easy answers or excuses. The audience must take every word and action depicted and come up with their own interpretation.
In fact, it is completely up to the audience to decide whether the character deserves absolution or not. Whether you believe every word of the story and whether you see the character as a serial killer or an avenging angel is entirely up to each person. The production takes a great risk in trusting the audience to do all of the work. It is a risk that pays off.
O'Neill is to be commended for both his acting and writing. The piece is always riveting without being sensationalised or overdramatic. There is enough evidence to allow the audience to reach any conclusion it wants to draw. The character is also not a black/white incarnation; he's sincere enough to be sympathetic but violent enough to be feared.
Director Rachel O'Riordan has the difficult task of dramatising a production that must not look dramatised. O'Neill's work requires a mostly naturalistic setting, which is exactly what she has achieved. Slight sound and lighting effects are used mostly to highlight the actual killings, but O'Riordan still finds ways of balancing the stage, allowing the character to slowly evolve throughout the performance.
Upon leaving the theatre, I overheard an audience member tell his partner 'Every Festival, there's always 'The One'!'; With its intelligence, highly literate script, compelling performance and blatant challenge to the audience, Absolution may in fact be this year's 'One'. (Michael Cox - On Stage Scotland 13/08/08)
Amazing - (14/08/08) reviewer: Eoghain, Ireland
Yesterday I commented that I had seen 30 good shows, this year, but I was still waiting for the show that would really blow me away. 'Absolution' is that show. It's my favourite Fringe show, so far, this year. Owen O'Neill gives a great performance, filled with passion and subtlety, of a script that he also wrote. The story is simple but exquisitely layered and I felt every nuance and outburst from Owen O'Neill. I'll be recommending this to everybody I meet!
Another O'Neill gem - (11/08/08) reviewer: Darren Shan, Ireland
I've been coming to see every show that Owen O'Neill puts on the Fringe for the last 6 or 7 years, and this is up there with the very best of his work. A dark look at a man on a mission to rid the world of child-abusing priests, it isn't as one-dimensional as it might have been in lesser hands -- this takes us inside the mind of a tortured soul, and also tries to give depth to the targets of his hatred. This is the least humorous of any of O'Neill's shows, though it does end on a wry, unsuspected note that lets you leave with a dark chuckle. Thought-provoking, must-see theatre.
Absolution - (06/08/08) reviewer: Margaret Kennedy, Ireland
Excellently weaved script starting with a tragic and gripping depiction of the shame surrounding abuse and small town mentality that prevailed througout the times ensuring the silence of children not just by the abuser but those who knew.... I found the kung fu sytle girating on stage jarring and distracting. Excellent twist at end comically negating the need to judge on the madman vs. avenger question of the role of judge, jury, executioner.
Disturbing But Brilliant. - (05/08/08) reviewer: Gilly, United Kingdom
Yes the subject matter is horrific but this piece is riveting. Beautifully written and performed I barely dared breath throughout in case I broke the spell cast over the audience. A difficult but brilliant piece.
Fantastic - (03/08/08) reviewer: Fiona Hunter, United Kingdom
This has a really compelling story and is told with such energy and amazing compassion (ironic given the subject) I will try to catch this again before the end of the run.