Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Review Cyprus Avenue

Cyprus Avenue
By David Ireland

The Orange And The Green

There is a Buzzfeed meme making the rounds of the internet at the moment asking "What percentage Jeremy Corbyn are you?" Well, Eric Miller (Stephen Rea), the Protestant Loyalist protagonist of Cyprus Avenue would surely point indignantly at his grandchild as one hundred percent Gerry Adams.

Notwithstanding that she's a peach of a girl and barely five weeks' old and brought to the Miller's Cyprus Avenue household by daughter Julie (Amy Molloy).  

This tragicomedy, written by East Belfast playwright David Ireland and directed by Vicky Featherstone, tackles with black humour the entanglements of an older Belfast Protestant generation. 

Despite a dangerous, searing subject and the Gerry Adamification of the granddaughter, it almost falls into the category of a conventional psychiatric-consulting room based play, if it were not for two things. David Ireland's understanding of his home city and Stephen Rea's performance as he turns and considers the issues simmering in his mind before they boil over into violence.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves, for before that there are the  flashbacks  and  the psychiatrist Bridget (Wunmi Mosaku) to talk to. See what we mean about a conventional play?  

The title mirrors that of a Van Morrison song,  but Cyprus Avenue, where Eric lives with wife Bernie (Julie Dearden), is apparently also a leafy upmarket road, almost a Bishop's Avenue of Belfast (see Page 27 of link).

This seems at odds with the confused but strangely logical deductions  of Eric, which rightly or wrongly one associates with the working class,  as he repeats to himself why he is British. Yet it's not at odds with the strangeness of this play.  

It also occurred to us the playwright, without knowing if he is Catholic or Protestant, thankful his surname is a geographical fact rather than a partisan nationality, may have rehearsed the British/Irish arguments in his own mind for many years before writing this play!

It's a dangerous, edgy piece which plays around with conventions of playwriting as well as sectarianism. 

For all that, weaker points sometimes peep through.  A pivotal encounter with a Loyalist gunman Slim (Chris Corrigan) exposes the political language hiding harsh reality seeping more and more into the play as it progresses but uses mundane stand-up jokes less successfully.

And the slightest of niggles is that this would perhaps work even better as a movie where the psychiatrist's explanations of identity in a world context at the beginning of the play would feel less expositional. 

But the effective theatre-in-the-round plain white carpeted design  by Lizzie Clachan  with its few pieces of furniture almost works as a green special effects (no pun intended!) screen. The Protestant/Catholic divide is definitely Belfast but the trip to London brings in foreign exchange and hints of other eras.

The ending is not for the fainthearted but it's a play that knows it can't put a step wrong even if the characters are in the wrong. A green light for a disturbingly funny but tragic play.

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