‘Magpie’ written by Andrew Cusack is an authoritative statement on depressingly contemporary themes such as nationalism and patriotism, compromised cultural identity and the ideals of independence, the binds of brotherhood, a clash of principled beliefs and morals, ideas of victory and knowing if/when the war is over and won. But, does anyone ever really win?

The play (included as part of FreshFest) also takes in the historical imprints wrought by subjugation, starvation and senseless sacrifice at the hands of higher orders, be it fealty to an authority or an indoctrinated faith system. Following orders is blinkered obsequience regardless of the context.

It’s 1923. The setting is in a dark, dank cell in Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin, Ireland, a well-worn mattress and pillow and a tiny bowl for bodily fluids the space’s objects. The stark symbols of a dispossessed being.

Michael (Cusack) is a condemned man. Awaiting execution for his involvement with the IRA which led to his committing murder he is equally haunted by the horrors of the First World War when by signing up he committed an unholy sin of taking the King’s shilling. A solitary magpie is his company. The symbolism is ominous.

In a twist worthy of a Greek tragedy, Michael’s watchful gaoler is his brother, Patrick (Johnjoe Irwin). Himself a veteran of the 1916 Easter Rising his sense of victory achieved in stark contrast with his zealous sibling’s relentless pursuit. Their shared past and conjoined memories coming to the fore through reminiscences that temporarily pause the reality of the situation. Patrick’s removal of his cap a symbolic relaxing of the captor-captured situation.

With his execution date impending Michael is visited by a priest (Ronan Colfer), there to seek to offer absolution through penance and to assist him on his supposed path to heavenly redemption. However, he is reminded of his own indiscretions and hypocritical choices when he lectures Michael on his ‘picking of a path’. No one is perfect, not even – or especially - an emissary of the book and cloth. Metaphorical stones are thrown. Let he who is without sin, indeed.

Cusack gives a powerful performance as the despairing idealist, his dogged quest for independence and sovereignty and what he feels to be right in the face of internal battles expressed by displays of fluctuating strength and vulnerability.

Irwin is excellent as the conflicted, compromised brother: caught in a crossfire of blood and country, duty and sacrifice.

Colfer (who also directs) is composed and controlled as the middle-man, there to shepherd his master’s flock yet the emblematic target of entrenched enmity.

At an hour long ‘Magpie’ is still a work in development with the creators keen to expand in order to build upon deeper elements of the characters (including Michael and Patrick’s mother), and the wider social context beyond the interiors of the cell. One to watch out for at a Fringe near you.