Edinburgh Fringe 2011
Haunting, sensitively written and beautifully portrayed, this examination of three lives affected by the Omagh bombing sacrifices theatricality for lyricism.
This may seem like an easy life to you, patient reader. Strolling up to the box office, bypassing the queues, press ID dangling from a lanyard like the winner’s medal from some highly unathletic track event – the 50 metre dash to the bar springs to mind – before claiming one’s review ticket: the visa that gives us access to the god-like powers of criticism, the capacity to confirm or destroy dreams. However it’s not all Olympian oratory and ambrosia power lunches here at FR Towers. Sometimes, we Titans are troubled and often it seems it is the smallest itch that causes the greatest irritation.
“Minute After Midday” is a slight thing, almost fragile. Played out on the tiny stage of the Gilded Balloon’s Turret theatre, where below mighty comedians toil, it sees three performers, all on different styles of chair and individually spotlit, engage in interweaving monologues as they relate their individual perspectives on the Omagh bombing of 1998 which killed 29 people and injured over 200 more. There is the young girl (Claire Hughes), caught in the blast just as she’s trying on the jacket of her dreams; there is the Catholic lad (Jude Greer), himself caught up, but this time in the guilt of having helped bring this atrocity about; and there is the middle-aged wife (Rachel Parker) whose husband will never come home.
It is a human, humane and deeply affecting piece of writing, and it is only fitting that Ross Dungan’s script has been celebrated, particularly with its nomination for a National Radio Drama Award in his native Ireland. It is also a timely piece: with the ten year anniversary of the Twin Towers approaching, it is easy to forget that such events took place with uneasy regularity on our own shores only a few years previously. It is a piece that refuses to come to any judgement, save for the tragedy of so much human waste, and is played out with dignity and finesse by its cast. Rachel Parker in particular stood out with her portrayal of the bereaved Mari, radiating an incandescent quality that reminded me of some of the more saintly Northern Irish women of my acquaintance.
But then there’s that itch…
For despite all the virtues mentioned above, despite the sensitivity of the language and performances, despite the dramatic circumstances in which these characters find themselves, “Minute After Midday” fails as a drama on stage because it has refused to embrace theatricality. Theatre is the dance of life: it requires movement, it requires interaction. The decision by director Emily Reilly to keep the three characters almost hermetically sealed from each other, separate despite their physical and emotional proximity, emphasises the verbal but avoids any visceral resonance and makes it difficult to understand why this is being presented on stage rather than its acknowledged natural home of the radio. “Minute After Midday” showcases some marvellous writing and playing but sadly, unlike the bombings themselves, there is nothing to see here.