A play of remarkable intensity.
No longer the theatre bar but the stage set, Robert (Matt Dunphy) opens up the pub like any other night. In an empty lounge he texts his partner and turns on the tv for the Northern Ireland v Poland football match. He’s lived in the province for many years but tonight his allegiance is firmly with the country of his birth. Jimmy (Paul Lloyd) comes in and assumes his usual seat. They engage in trivial banter about the game but Jimmy warns Robert that he has arranged to meet someone and not to be alarmed if things become somewhat volatile and to stay out of it. Ian (Nick Danan) arrives and the meeting they have both long anticipated finally gets under way. Their pasts are brought out into the open as their dirty laundry is deliberately washed within earshot of Robert. The men ride the incoming tide of past events and as it ebbs away enough has been said. The play is neatly rounded with the final score.
This is a play of remarkable intensity steeped in The Troubles that afflicted Northern Ireland for decades. Only those who grew up in that violent period and endured the strife, coercion and suffering they brought can begin to tell of its horrors. Few writers of Owen McCafferty’s standing are better qualified to to take on the challenge of presenting this subject and the London based Irish theatre company Strange Fish is the the ideal group to bring it onto the stage. Lloyd captures all the bitterness and resentment of a childhood ripped apart by the events of one day when Jimmy was aged just sixteen. He’s a man with mission who will not relent from his struggle to hear a confession from the boy of the same age who was responsible for the atrocity. Danan, constantly under attack from Lloyd’s gritty anger, listens and repeatedly tries to explain his own background and the inevitability of his becoming involved with the UVF. His pain is palpable, and his silences are full of haunting guilt. As he struggles with his conscious he manages to say something that may or may not be enough. Meanwhile, Dunphy brings moments of light relief and humanity to this scenario and is an endearingly witty and welcoming barman.
In South Africa after years of bitter division the grand Truth and Reconciliation Commission was set up in a great public display of confessions and pardons. No such body ever emerged in Northern Ireland. It was left to individuals in their diverse ways to create their own peace as best they could. Many did; others never will. Director James O’Donnell has sensitively brought together a cast that portrays just one possible attempt.