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Edinburgh Fringe 2018


John McCCann, Ambergris

Genre: Solo Performance, Solo Show

Venue: Sweet Grassmarket


Low Down

John McCann lives in Fife. Originally, he called “home” Northern Ireland, Ulster, the six counties. Now he calls those who prop up the UK government to account as he looks into who they are and what they represent. It is an odyssey that brings him to contact with those who have been in conflict with the Democratic Unionist Party and are now willing to discuss with him how the DUP is viewed and how they are part of mainstream British politics in ways that ought to be scary. By the end of his wandering through the DUP tulips, he decides he is ready to talk to them. That may come next in that odyssey but for now we are more than content with the description of his journey.


Starting the piece by balancing one sectarian joke with another, John manages to take us by the hand and walk us through the fields of trouble that has been the politics of the province for years. The way in which the Democratic Unionist Party was established by a man called firebrand by many and understood as a bigot by most, the Reverend Ian Paisley, Paisley was the colossus with an undeniable effect on the Unionist/Protestant community. It even went beyond his exhorting protestant female workers to breed to save the Union and to warn communities of the dangers of being swamped by the corrupt Catholic South.

It was a message that brought young protestant men into paramilitary action. Now those who have taken the mantle of Paisley, Forster, Robinson, Donaldson and the like, have new demons – Islam, the LGBT community – though each bogey person is just the same message with a different spin. John’s journey into the conflicts during which he speaks to Chis Hudson the Unitarian minister, Malachi the Green Party candidate and Mark the former resident of Crumlin to gain an insight into what is happening in that place he calls “home”.

What we get is intellectually stimulating, provoking and in the hour may not span the entire spectrum of politics or indeed the spectrum of the DUP – but even a story starting its tale in the year 1690 and continuing all the way to now would fail to fit it all in – but we do get remarkable insight. It is brought through a storytelling style that takes us to the personal – the story of Feally Hughes and his family’s connection to a young man murdered and the controversial. It is a performance that may not bring a solution, but it questions why we need these people at all, unless you are already propping something up that has the whiff of corruption about it.

Politically there would be few that would argue with the premise that the DUP are not the good guys but it is his style coupled with a well written and well structured narrative that mixes the spoken word with voice over compels us to that conclusion. I did struggle on a few occasions with that voice over as some was clearer than others but the authentic voice of those he interviewed made this all the more real.

By the end I was not more concerned for our democracy; I could not be more concerned than he was after the last election and am already this side of terrified. I was not more informed about the DUP nor the politics of Northern Ireland – I know a bit myself and once met Jeffrey Donaldson, though that really IS another story. But for many people there, this was either a condemnation needing to be heard or a confirmation of their own views that is now given the evidence to back up the idea that along with right wing movements in Europe, the Trump administration and the DUP there is an all out assault on the freedoms and choices of our recent history. It requires action and we need to gather ourselves to stave off this assault. Whilst the South of Ireland votes in ways the DUP would balk at, the rest of the UK needs to be alive to what we are getting into bed with – both in Stormont and Westminster – and take a stand. John says he is going to meet the DUP. I hope that is his next show and he can book me a front row seat… I shall be the one either with my head in my hands, watching through my fingers or looking like the Walking Dead just entered Westminster.