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trapped in a war of words

Gate Theatre >AOIFE FINNERAN

A YOUNG boy stands in front of us wearing a cream Aran sweater and a pair of durable German lederhosen. This is Hanni Hamilton, or O'hUrmoltaigh as his father would like him to be known. We're minutes into The Speckled People and already we're presented with an image which perfectly encapsulates the theme of this story.

As part of the Dublin Theatre Festival, Hugo Hamilton has adapted his memoir for the stage and the result is a play that is touching, intelligent, humorous and heart-wrenching in equal measure. The Speckled People tells the true story of the contradiction that was Hamilton's early life. Born to a fiercely nationalist Irish father and a mild-mannered but resilient German mother, he grew up in Dublin speaking Irish and German in the home.

Claimed by two different cultures and living among neighbours who speak English, Hanni (Tadhg Murphy) is caught between three very different worlds.



isolation

This isolation is a price Hanni's father Sean (Denis Conway) is willing to pay for the survival of the Irish language. Hanni's happiness is second to the importance of his command of Irish.

The boy's mother, Irmgard, (Julika Jenkins), is a kindly soul whose primary concern is her son's happiness, even if it means challenging her husband's will.

Hamilton allows his childhood self to tell the story, which results in the play being sprinkled with intriguing references to his parents' pasts. In Sean's case, the impact of his own father's life is a heavy burden to carry, while Irmgard is constantly haunted by the abuse she suffered at the hands of the brutal Stiegler (Stephen Brennan) in Germany.

Despite the poignancy, there's a significant comic element with Hamilton providing endearing illustrations of his mother's attempts to master the confusing nuances of Irish and English.

The climax brings realisation and regrets, but also hope of learning from past mistakes. HHHHI