FringeReview UK 2016
Vicky Featherstone brings this co-production of the Abbey Theatre and Royal Court across to the Court after its Abbey premiere earlier this year, in David Ireland’s first full-length play.
Vicky Featherstone directs this co-production of the Abbey Theatre and Royal Court in David Ireland’s first full-length play. Stephen Rea’s mesmerising Eric dominates a strong cast.
There’s a moment in this initially farcical drama where Eric’s conviction – that his five-week-old granddaughter is Gerry Adams – gives rise to a folie a deux that turns Rae’s self-excoriating Protestant Unionist Eric into something other. When parable meets paramilitary and both turn mad. When farce turns ferocious and the laughter – lots of it – stops.
The dramatic irony’s that until this point, Eric’s surreal certainties are manageable; though he admits to his psychiatrist Bridget he’s been thrown out by his wife for black-markering his granddaughter’s face with an Adams beard, adding spectacles. He reminisces in a great central monologue about his time in London taken for an Irishman by a ‘London’ Irishman and revelling in it, just for a night His perception of Catholic otherness is exotic, ‘beards so black they could be Argentinian whoremasters.‘ Repressed homoeroticsm twines with the ‘straight’ Britishness he asserts the more violently it dissolves: Rae begins to shiver Eric’s core identity like an egg injected with gelignite, which duly explodes. He even cedes Catholic superiority in some things, a symptom of his actions. As he tells Bridget, ’They have all the songs. Our songs are pitiful alongside theirs.’
His ‘Fenian’ songs though elicit a boy’s complaint and Slim (Chris Corrigan) a para who joined when everyone laid down their arms, is sent in to kill him – he’s ruining the boy’s cultural identity. During this (almost) killingly funny exchange Eric reveals he’s relating this whole episode to Bridget including this dialogue with Slim, disorienting Slim and his own memory, a fleeting touch of comic paranoia turned self-aware. Slim, with anger management classes to go to on Tuesday, finally accepts the baby in exchange for Eric, if he’ll rendezvous at the same place. Slim, who agrees this is just the thing Gerry Adams would do, needs to check.
In the meantime Corrigan’s coruscating tirade at the thought other ‘Fenians’ are insinuating themselves as babies into other Unionist households describes its own animal howl, adding: ‘They’ve killed us in the war and now they’re killing us in the peace.’ It’s important to underline this isn’t one man’s delusion, nor can what happens occur if that was all.
Only tracing Eric’s interactions with Slim and his family can you see how prepared apotheosis is, exceeding expectations. Amy Molloy as daughter Julie gropes from concern to reaching out and incredulous fury. At key moments she matches Rea’s implacable Eric.
Julia Dearden’s wife Bernie shows quicker intolerance. If husband and wife interacted more it might herald a more epic scale but we’d lose the impetus here.
Wunmi Mosaku‘s Bridget rises to deal with self-imposed dignity Eric’s first hesitant question: ‘Why are you a nigger?’ The way she unpicks Eric’s racism – he never met anyone of colour till he was forty-seven – perfectly traces the radius of professional concern. What you don’t see is the chronological sequence of their encounters. Eric admits to his family the first use of the c-word to describe his daughter, given like the n-word above with guarded hesitation, but Rea conveys with wounded but inviolable self-justification that under articulate surfaces something body-snatched exists, more ‘other’ than Eric’s ‘Fenians’. We empathise then suddenly startle in Rea’s magnificently corrugated stare, granitic, not so much towering as bearing the weight of some inverted pyramid in his final ‘no’.
Lizzie Clachan’s clinical safe-space set – white plush, chrome chairs – literally springs surprises; but its unfussiness perfectly complements the remorseless shock of Ireland’s vision unerringly paced by Featherstone. Ireland’s leapt into the younger first rank with this astonishing play. It’s where hilarity turned horror addresses the sheer hollowness – and absolute necessity – of professional healing and reconciliation.