The Day The Pope Emptied Croy

After a very strong debut with Squash in last season’s A Play, A Pie and a Pint, playwright Martin McCormick returns with his second play, The Day the Pope Emptied Croy. Set in the early 1980s, it follows the fortunes of two teenage boys as they prepare to run away to Newcastle. That’s after they’ve taken advantage of the empty town – everyone’s gone to see the Pope – to steal the chalice from the altar of the local church. Ranald, a self-titled atheist-anarchist, just wants to get away from his new stepmother and newly Catholic father. Barr would follow Ranald anywhere, but that might prove difficult as he wrestles with his own nascent sexuality, violently homophobic brothers, and addiction to sniffing glue.

The unusually young cast tackles the material very well. Sean Purden Brown gives an affecting performance as Chris, and Nathan Byrne is gratifyingly annoying and unlikeable as the self-involved Ranald.

The unusually young cast tackles the material very well. Sean Purden Brown gives an affecting performance as Chris, and Nathan Byrne is gratifyingly annoying and unlikeable as the self-involved Ranald. He provides a compelling foil for a very emotionally intelligent performance from Keiran Gallagher as Barr. Emma Callander's direction, too, is strong. She ekes out every shred of drama from the text with the result that there are some powerful set pieces.

However, there is a sense that the strengths of this production happen in spite of, rather than because of, McCormick’s script. As one would expect from the author of Squash, the dialogue itself is strong, if occasionally a little slow, but something is lacking at the core. The decision to set the play in the early 1980s robs it of a great deal of its immediacy and power. There are depressingly plentiful examples of violence and discrimination against gay people in 2015, but the play doesn't choose to interrogate them. Instead, we are let off the hook of any current cultural criticism, and instead invited to shake our heads at the past.

The story itself, of a teenaged boy struggling to come to terms with his own sexuality in a hostile world, is one we have seen many times before, often by writers who were writing about their own times, and who therefore were writing in the 1980s. Even the nuances of the play – the religious imagery, the descriptions of intense violence, the unrequited love – felt very familiar. In short, in all its aspects this is a play that’s very much “of its time” – it’s only a shame that time isn’t 2015.

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Performances

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The Blurb

There aren’t too many places in Scotland where you are the only ‘Prod’ in town. But Ranald is; and he’s the only one in Croy. Literally. Everyone has gone to see the Pope. Except Barr, he’s there too. Although, he doesn’t know where he is, he doesn’t know what he is; that’s because of all the glue he’s inhaled. The Day the Pope Emptied Croy shows us a glimpse of life in the early 1980s, what it’s like being an outsider and why you should never try and knock the chalice from the Chapel.

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