theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013…
Sometimes new plays have a knack of coming along at just the right time. This new play from Belfast is a real shot in the arm for the peace process. It is honest enough to pin its colours to the mast with a portrait of Bobby Sands centre stage, but the photographic images of ordinary folk in Northern Ireland that hang from the ceiling like shrines are eloquent in their silence, evocative of hope. Let’s be clear, this drama is timely because it has no axe to grind. That’s ultimately what drives this play along and keeps it sane. The characters are quite a law unto themselves, mind you. And the jokes sometimes fly around like spent cartridges from a gun. But then, this is Belfast. Anything can happen. Peace might even break out. It probably has. And if this play suffers in any way from its highly condensed chronology of events, it is no less valid for the ambition than anyone else’s subjective account of the past.
The History of the Troubles (accordin’ to My Da), has proved to be a big hit in Ireland, selling out at the box office wherever it has been performed. One of the authors of this collaboration, Martin Lynch, has admitted that he isn’t sure how well the play will travel. The humour is fairly localised to Belfast. When it played in Dublin, for example, he reckons it lost around 5 per cent of its laughs. Now it’s in London for the very first time and well and truly playing for 100 per cent.
Written by Martin Lynch, Conor Grimes and Alan McKee, it centres round the life of a man called Gerry Courtney. Gerry (played by Ivan Little) is an ordinary, likeable, reflective Belfast man, a Rolling Stones fan and father-to-be, who gets caught up in the mayhem of the Troubles — just like everyone else he comes into contact with. It’s unavoidable. Just part and parcel of life in Belfast. The play opens on August 14th 1969 with Gerry very much on edge in the Royal Victoria Hospital awaiting the birth of his first child. Belfast is starting to erupt in violence around him. His troubles, and everyone else’s troubles, have just started.
We follow Gerry through every major twist and turn of Northern Ireland’s recent history, from the Civil Rights Marches of the late 60s, through internment, Bloody Sunday, the Loyalist Workers’ Strike, the Republican hunger strikes, the visit of Bill Clinton, through to the cease-fires of today. We watch Gerry grow older and wiser before us, struggling to retain his sanity amid 34 years of intermittent strife. ‘Gerry, d’ya think yir haemorrhoids are connected to the Troubles?’ asks one of the characters with utter seriousness. You don’t exactly need a pretext here to laugh.
One of the outstanding messages of this play is that for as long as you’re alive and well and clued into the fact that other people will be different from you, and if you retain your sense of humour, there’s a fair chance that you’ll keep yourself intact. That said, the play never flinches from what’s happening on the streets, brilliantly implied at times with clever mime. But in the final analysis it’s the dialogue that pulls the whole piece off. Gerry has a brother and a bunch of Belfast mates and a motley crew of larger-than-life acquaintances (played by Alan McKee and Conor Grimes). Their madcap interaction is sometimes hilarious. It’s the single vital element that somehow keeps them sane.
The character of Fireball (the hospital porter) is brilliantly brought to life by Conor Grimes, while Felix (the neighbour), Goon (the prisoner) and Maggie (the hijacker) allow Alan McKee to excel in keeping the audience on its toes. Ivan Little holds the bulk of the action together with a finely tuned, restrained performance portraying the development of Gerry through his periods of bewilderment in the 1970s through to his optimism and faith of the present day. Director Karl Wallace’s visualisation brims with energy for the entire 90 minutes while the choreography of the action here is seamless.
Ian Lees © June 2003
The History of the Troubles (accordin’ to My Da) opened at the Tricycle Theatre, Kilburn, London on 03-06-03 and continued until 28-603.
Originally published 06-06-03
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