Lyric Theatre, Belfast
Play runs from April 8 – 13
For booking information contact www.lyrictheatre.co.uk or phone 02890381081
Jackie Fullerton’s bespoke and familiar voice ushers the Lyric Theatre’s 370 sell-out crowd from small talk to big issues. There’s a match on. Northern Ireland has a chance of qualifying for the World Cup… seriously. In a non-descript pub somewhere in Belfast a Polish barman (Robert Zawadzki) sups on a soft drink and tries to ignore constant texts from his girlfriend happily unaware of the events about to unfold. ‘There might be trouble’ says Patrick O’Kane’s character Jimmy, and so the contrast and conflict begins.
Dublin’s Abbey Theatre has trekked the hundred odd miles to Belfast and director Jimmy Fay working with Owen McCafferty’s script of tight and tense Belfast dialogue delivers what many have suggested to be the play of the year. With international acclaim and three Edinburgh Festival Fringe Awards in tow, it’s hard to see why a play about Belfast, from a Belfast playwright, set in Belfast has taken so long to reach… aye, you’ve guessed it, Belfast!
Numbers are crucial: the six, sixteen, fifty-two and 1974 all lead us to a meeting of polar opposites with too much in common to admit. Patrick O’Kane’s Jimmy is a troubled and angry spark waiting on a meeting with a mysterious man in his local. Vivid memories of his father’s death intertwined with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the ’74 World Cup load deafening silences with more shrapnel than the bomb that killed his dad. Jimmy prowls the pub with tooth-ache agitated tiger prowess. Not much of a drinker he piles in the pints… waiting.
Enter Ian (Declan Conlon), fifty-two-years-old, sixteen in ’74, the troubles between left and right ear appear more controlled but equally destructive, and so begins a forced but much needed confession ordained with a head-butt, dragged out by Jimmy’s memories, loss of faith, desolation of hope, that of a man drowning reaching for the truth not the life-belt. If Northern Ireland ever has a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, McCafferty’s script must be the template. As politicians of both sides rely on rhetoric, inter-party disputes, cattle-prods from London, Dublin, their voters and beyond, this, and arguably only Northern Ireland’s reality are two opposites in a pub sharing their stories.
Another number, 20,000 Orange Men parading down Jimmy’s street shouting ‘Fenian Bastards’ ties the Prod and Taig together in a unlikely yet familiar alliance. Both victims of circumstance; Ian tempered with prison education, well-heeled, considered and apologetic meets Jimmy’s forlorn life as a scuff-booted, working-class man who has never strayed both literally and metaphorically from his neighbourhood and past. One wants answers, the other seeks forgiveness for a crime of his childhood. McCafferty’s sense of truth, judgment and sneering forgiveness cripple both characters through fragmented speech, cut-ins, silences and the fear of not understanding the other view. Jimmy knows he hates Ian and his ilk, Ian knows he hates himself with a disregard bordering on total detachment, but years have passed, so to have mothers, lovers, rewards, ideals and prison sentences. One tamed, the other Godless and unable to bury the facts beneath the rubble that devastated his life.
In essence we’re left with not a drama about Northern Ireland’s forty years’ of bloodshed, but unity blemishing from diversity; understanding blossoming from ignorance and as the play devolves toward the closing lights, a deeper understanding sweeps the theatre as curtain call one, turns to two and into three with an audience on their feet, clapping their hands off in supreme appreciation.
Belfast has been treated tonight and I hope this play runs for a long time.
5 out of 5 Nerds