Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Shadow of a Gunman: an energetic production of Sean O’Casey’s version of Coronation Street at the Lyric

Donal Davoren (played by Mark O’Halloran) is a poet and remains on set for the entire one hour forty minute duration of The Shadow of a Gunman. He’s a thin sockless figure, hunched over a manual typewriter on which he batters out poems when he’s not distracted and disturbed by the ever more colourful people who barge into his presence.

It’s May 1920, and Davoren enjoys being the mysterious lodger in the tenement. He plays up to the seemingly romantic notion that he might be a runaway IRA volunteer, giving rise to his private admission that he’s only “the shadow of a gunman”. But in the midst of ambiguity, some locals make false assumptions and their interactions with Davoren have extreme implications and repercussions.

Seumas Shields (David Ganly) peddles brightly coloured children’s toys, though he has the bushy beard of a man who may have been asleep for 50 years or more. He wishes the conflict would end and spars endlessly with Davoren.

While sticking to O’Casey’s text with its Dublinisms and deliberately mistaken words, director Wayne Jordan has created a very distinctive version of the classic Irish play. The language is dense and it took me a few minutes to break into the rhythm and accents. Even towards the end, some dialogue descended into muttering.

There is more than a hint of Schaub├╝hne’s An Enemy of the People about The Abbey and Lyric Theatres’ joint production of Sean O’Casey’s The Shadow of a Gunman. The basic one-room set is built from wooden panels of wood, like an enormous study in brown by Sean Scully. There’s larger-than-life, animated hand-waving acting. There’s a use of distance between characters coupled with the invasion of personal space. The cast rearrange the set between acts accompanied by a booming soundtrack. So many contemporary theatre boxes ticked.

With a cast of eleven, there is no part-sharing in this full-scale production. Character development is unusually minimal: the cast adopt the personas sketched out by O’Casey and remain remarkably consistent from the moment they appear on the stage until the curtain drops at the end.

Adolphus Grigson (Dan Gordon) is a treat that playwright O’Casey and director Jordan reserve for the second half of the play. The bombastic, alcohol-infused Orangeman quotes from the Bible and disrespects his long suffering wife (Louise Lewis) as the nightly curfew is briefly overtaken by farce.

Amy McAllister, who plays the 23-year old patriot Minnie Powell, is perhaps the most watchable character on stage with her fidgety feet and expressive eyebrows that charm Davoren and later get her into trouble.
“That’s right. Make a joke of it. That’s the Irish way all over.”

Last night’s packed audience laughed and giggled their way through the play, finding the laughs that O’Casey buried even at the darkest moments in the play.

There’s deliberate incongruity in the costumes and props with an anachronistic mix of styles and decades. The otherwise drab set is brightened up by costumes (including a 1960’s A-line mini dress and some tracksuit bottoms that wouldn’t look amiss on any number of local estates) that are in contrast to more sedate Davoren and Shields (who wears long-johns and holds his trousers up with braces).

There’s no interval, yet the play takes its time. While there’s plenty of movement on stage, two minutes pass at the start before a word is uttered.

Sarah Bacon’s one-room wooden-walled set with a single door to enter includes two picture windows overlooking a back alley that is frequently integral to the action. It’s implausibly larger than an 1920’s flat, but the expansive floor space allows characters to be placed with a beautiful proportion across the room.

Leaving the Lyric last night, some people I spoke to were unimpressed with the extravagant gestures, modernist set and animated acting. Certainly, the enormous moon that descends was a surreal step too far! Yet the moments of modernity mostly work and are there to remind audiences that the themes of O’Casey’s play are still relevant today. Written only a couple of years after the ending of the Irish War of Independence, O’Casey already knew that it’s the civilians who can suffer the most in conflict.

A poignant play that balances tension and humour so delicately that it failed to build up empathy and left this member of the audience impressed by the energetic production but less than enthusiastic about the original writing.

The Shadow of a Gunman runs in Belfast’s Lyric Theatre until 6 June before transferring to The Abbey Theatre in Dublin (12 June - 1 August).

Photos by Ros Kavanagh

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Theatre for all ... Interview with Martin Lynch ahead of CRAZY opening in the MAC (26 May-14 June)

Crazy is a new play from the pen of Brenda Murphy that’s coming to the MAC’s stage at the end of May. I spoke to director Martin Lynch on Thursday and he explained the premise of the play:
It’s about three people who live in a house together and the central character is a woman called Ruby who is unlucky in love and is in search of a man. She’s also obsessed with the 1950’s singer Patsy Cline …

There are two other eccentric characters in the house: Gary is the owner and “is secretly in love with her” though she doesn’t recognise it; and Eddie, a “ducker and diver” who is “always making a mess of things and getting in the way of Gary and Ruby getting together … he’s like a magpie who comes in from the street and messes things up”.

Ruby’s search for love takes her on internet dating sites and a series of dates with “crazy nutcases”. Martin Lynch describes it as an “intriguing storyline of a triangle of people who have a very dysfunctional relationship set up between them”.
“It’s a comedy. It’s about fun and a good night out with the whole Patsy Cline music thing thrown in.”

Like much new theatre in Belfast, Crazy has a very small cast, though they all have the comic timing the director wanted: Caroline Curran (The Holy, Holy Bus; 50 Shades of Red White and Blue), Ciaran Nolan (Mistletoe and Crime; Man In The Moon) and Marty Maguire (Shoot the Crow; BBC’s Number 2s).
[Small plays are an] economic necessity these days. I remember when there was an interest in my work from different theatres and they would say to me 'Martin ... no more than a four hander ... we can’t pay any more than a four-hander'. And now that I produce plays I end up saying that to people like Brenda Murphy and other people who write for me. If you give me a six hander or a seven hander I won’t be able to do it.

Looking at the website for Lynch’s company that is producing Crazy, it’s populist stuff, raucous and in your face.
There’s probably two or three types of different theatre. I run two companies. I run Green Shoot Productions which is a not-for-profit and that’s where I do the plays that have strong social and political comment or content. My last play was My English Tongue, My Irish Heart which I wrote and directed, a very strong play about emigration themes. GBL Productions is the other company I run and that’s purely for entertainment, for people to have a good night out at the theatre. So this play Crazy is a comedy about a women who’s looking for love and obsessed with Patsy Cline and it’s right in that whole good night out category.

At a Stormont committee inquiry, Martin Lynch was very outspoken about the MAC theatre last May: “I do not accept that the MAC has a wide enough approach to the arts.  I think that it is elitist.  I think that an elitist smell comes off the building.  There is a middle-class ethos about the place that does not make it particularly comfortable or a warm house, if you want to use those political terms, for working people.” [The MAC strongly defended their practice and approach to the arts in their oral submission to the Culture, Arts and Leisure committee.]

So was it an uncomfortable conversation to talk to the MAC about performing Crazy on their stage when he had criticised them?
It’s been incredibly uncomfortable with the MAC from the very start because I would like to think that a new theatre that opens up in Belfast city centre should be a theatre that straight away should have programming that attracts the widest possible … The Belfast Telegraph in their editorial one time said I wanted a working class theatre. Let me clear this up straight away. I do not want a working class theatre. I want a theatre that is accessible to all. All. A. L. L. And that means the working classes as well.

Unfortunately I thought the MAC’s programme initially was aimed at excluding those communities, particularly the communities that are adjacent geographically to the MAC: York Road, New Lodge Road, Lower Shankill, Lower Falls.

If I was running that theatre I’d be directly making contact with those communities to see what they wanted, getting theatre work from them, putting playwrights in there, actors, writers. None of that has happened or did happen.

Since that initial row with the MAC I have had two or three productions on there. It’s an uncomfortable relationship which I would rather not have. I would like to have a theatre that welcomes me and the work that I bring, both the Green Shoot social and political work and the GBL more entertainment factor. And in fairness they have had those shows in the last couple of years and I’m delighted about that. But I feel that we’ve foisted that on them rather than their programming allowing for that or reaching out for that at the start …

I want all people to like a good night out at the theatre.

Martin Lynch sees big improvements in the local theatre industry.
I think Northern Ireland punches well above its weight. We have a very, very good generation of theatre makers … There’s a really good set of actors, directors ... I remember 20-25 years ago there were no theatre directors in Belfast. You had to go searching for a theatre director. Now there’s loads of them ... I’ve noticed the difference in working with actors 30 years ago till today and the level of skills there are today that weren’t there before.

Crazy is not the only show the director and playwright is working on at the moment.
Between Green Shoot Productions and GBL we do seven or eight productions of theatre a year. That’s a high turnout. At the minute we’ve just finished My English Tongue My Irish Heart for Green Shoot … straight into rehearsals for Crazy for GBL … I’m also working on a new draft of a play that Brenda Murphy’s doing called My Two Sore Legs which is going to the Edinburgh Festival … on top of that GBL’s putting out a regional tour of Fifty Shades of Red, White and Blue … also working with Grimes and McKee to develop a follow-up to The History of the Troubles Accordin’ to my Da … and we have the franchise for the Waterfront pantomime … it’s non-stop.

Martin Lynch agrees that some local humour is lost in translation whenever Northern Ireland plays transfer to other countries. But his focus is on reaching local audiences.
Every play is different. Some plays transfer easier than others. In my own work I very specifically tend to try and connect into a specific Northern Ireland audience. It’s what I do. I’m not excited by an audience in Belgium* watching one of my plays. I couldn’t give two tosses if one of my plays goes on in Belgium ... it just doesn’t float my boat.

What matters to Martin Lynch is connecting with people and communities he knows.
If I think we write a play about a community or are involved in a community project that makes an impact there I like all that. It’s a big flaw and fault in my character as a playwright that I don’t aim for universal playwriting but it’s not what I’m interested in.

[* Brassneck Theatre seemed very happy that Man In The Moon went down so well with Belgium audiences in March!]

Despite this ‘flaw’, Martin’s had success with his own play Chronicles of the Long Kesh which sold out at the Edinburgh Festival, and toured as far as Tasmania. And given the “universal family theme” in Brenda Murphy’s play My Two Sore Legs, he’s planning to take it to Edinburgh Festival later this year and further afield afterwards.

Does Northern Ireland need to try to get our playwrights, actors and plays out there, exporting them to the rest of the world?
Very much so. I’ve been to the Edinburgh Festival, the New York First Irish Festival, the Brighton Festival and so on. Culture Ireland … has been sensational. The amount of money they’ve had to bring Republic of Ireland product all around the work is amazing. And they’ve also helped out northern companies: they helped us to go to Australia. But when you go to the Edinburgh Festival they have a big launch of their own, a big lavish reception where all their works are put out there and promoted. And coming from Belfast we were left standing with our arms both the one length feeling a wee bit the poor man’s son …

The City Council, the British Council and the Arts Council should get together and really start to promote Northern Irish work abroad because I do think Northern Irish theatre punches well above its weight. There’s lots of really good product that comes out of Belfast. It’s just a pity that at the moment we don’t have the focus and the resources to give it that springboard onto an international platform.

If you've got a lot of rhythm in your soul, check our Crazy in the MAC between 26 May and 14 June. All are welcome!

Lanciatore: an everyday household suffering from Wonga economics, set in Medieval Italy (until 17 May)

A young man is ambitious to provide for his family. He could never hope to earn what he needs to move to a bigger house, so he takes out a loan and then foolishly gambles it all away in a bid to grow his stake, leaving his family in peril of losing everything.

Sounds like an everyday household suffering from Wonga economics with society’s obsession for prosperity clouding all notions of sensible saving before spending.

It’s also the premise of Paul Kennedy’s new tragic comedy Lanciatore which sees the eponymous juggler (played by Terry Keeley) in Medieval Italy borrowing from an impatient money lender (Michael Liebmann) to play cards with the Vagabondi and put everything he’s built up for wife Victoria (Roisin Gallagher) at risk.

“Don’t be doing anything stupid” shouts Victoria, a former contortionist and now stay-at-home-mother. They make a sweet couple, one quietly ambitious, the other content and so forgiving. Roisin gets to channel her inner Lally The Scut as she mixes gentle love with emotional frustration and angst.

Three Ragazze (buxom wenches played by Claire Connor, Jo Donnelly and Julie Maxwell) provide the narration, often rhyming their way through extended sections of scene setting and reflection, weaving their lines around and on top of each other. They also play the Vagabondi card sharks [you'd count your fingers after shaking hands with them] and the money lender’s two bailiffs, humorously named Rack and Ruin who ponder “How can he juggle with broken fingers?”

Michael Liebmann alternates between playing the money lender (whose repayment policy quickly boils down to ‘your money or your wife’) and a needy priest who would prefer if confession included some decent sins to get his teeth into.

The cast are totally committed to their characters and the use of masks and accessories prevent costume changes and clearly differentiate the multiple parts being played. The venue – Belfast Circus School – chimes with the lead character’s occupation and his previous work in a circus.

Paul Kennedy’s script has rhythm and is peppered with word play: “I’m just havin’ a giraffe” [laugh]; “Any bin lids?” [kids]. Everyone becomes a victim, even the money lender when the bailiffs decide that he is bringing his trade into disrepute and they call in his own debts.

Lanciatore is a stripped back production that would fit into the back of a small van if Rawlife choose to tour. Niall Rea’s wooden box set conceals actors, props and is easily pushed around and rearranged by the cast to signify a change of location.
“I’m out of time and beyond help.”

Only an hour long, and playing to an audience of 50 or so sitting around three sides of the set, Lanciatore is a well-balanced and pleasing piece of theatre in which the script makes its point and moves on without delay. The ending is the play’s weakest point: it’s hard to build up to an energetic crescendo when the denouement has to be so tragic.

Co-directors Martin McSharry and Patrick J O’Reilly have brought the script to life in a way that’s interesting but not so overpowering that the message is hidden behind layers of choreography or over-the-top acting..

Lanciatore contains live juggling and some strong language. Having played as part of the recent Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, Lanciatore is back in Belfast Circus School until Sunday 17 May. Tickets available for £12.50.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Spooks: The Greater Good ... shorter than Bond and Bourne, but no less enjoyable

Sir Harry Pearse is like the Robin Hood of fictional intelligence services. He sees it as his job to make the tough decisions, to weigh up levels of probable bloodshed, and to work with the big picture in mind rather than individual incidents and mounting death in service payments for his unfortunate staff.
"The Americans feel we're no longer fit for purpose - we need a scalp."
The plot's setup is that Harry (played as always by Peter Firth) goes on the run believing that someone inside MI5 helped the CIA's most wanted terrorist Adem Qasim (Elyes Gabel) escape from a gridlocked prisoner handover convoy. Intelligence chiefs blame Harry for putting possible civilian collateral damage ahead of the prisoner's continued detention.

The narrative thrives on ambiguity. Where do junior agent June’s (Tuppence Middleton) loyalties lie? Could Harry do a deal with a terrorist to flush out a rat from amongst his colleagues? Is there anyone Harry can trust? Can anyone trust Harry?

With two people on the loose, the film criss-crosses UK locations and the German capital (with the Isle Of Man ably standing in for the south coast of England) as MI5 search for Harry who they hope will lead them to Qasim. Kit Harrington plays Will Holloway, a decommissioned agent that Harry – and then MI5 – reaches out to; his Game of Thrones sword swapped for a firearm that fits into the back pocket of his jeans.

There's a nod to deceased stalwarts of the BBC One series and some familiar old faces reappear. While Harry believes most ex-agents can be categorised as "the drunk, the mad and the dead" it's a relief to see that over the 86 television episodes some people retired alive from Harry's wider team.

It's classic Spooks, wrapped up like a feature length end of series episode. Characters you've just grown to like are sacrificed with a pull of the screenwriter's trigger. The fanciful MI5 teeters on the edge due to one botched job, completely overshadowing the hundreds or thousands of other operations and threats they manage. The instability of state organisations is vastly overplayed and nearly stretches the plot beyond a reasonable level of infeasibility.

The audience can be thankful that there are fewer long, pointless chase sequences than Bond or Bourne. Running short distances is cheaper to shoot when the franchise's brand appeal is unknown and money is tight. Product placement is restricted to a white cat and black 4x4 vehicles favoured by police and security services.

Spooks has successfully transitioned from television to the big screen. The familiar grey vistas of the London skyline and concrete building are there, though the film budget extends to helicopter shots, trips to Berlin, and CGI explosions.

Where the film is less successful is the director's insistence on placing the Houses of Parliament, St Paul's Cathedral, The Shard or the London Eye in the background of every shot in London. And for some reason the pain-in-your-chest tension so familiar to fans of the ten television series is completely absent from the cinema experience. Maybe watching the 11am screening in an otherwise empty cinema changed the mood!

All in all, if you're a fan of the show, Spooks: The Greater Good is well worth a trip to your local cinema.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Saddle up for the gun-toting Little Sure Shot appearing in The MAC until Annie Oakley is run out of town on 10 May

Little Sure Shot is a rags to riches story of gunfire and feminism, based around the real life of Annie Mosey. From the age of five, Annie (played by Verity Kirk) goes hunting in the woods with her father and he teaches her how to hold a gun. After his death she realises that she could “provide the bread and meat to feed” her family, but her mother (Paksie Vernon) won’t allow it.
“Guns are not for girls … it’s shameful Annie.”

After a spell in the poor house learning to sew and be lady like, she skivvies for an abusive family before escaping and finally taking up arms to feed her family by selling game to the local grocer Mr Katzenburger. From there, it’s on to shooting competitions, falling in love, and the unstable world of show business under the stage name of Annie Oakley.
“Falling in love in the Wild West is a lot like falling in the Mississippi River: it’s a lot easier getting in than getting out!”

The action takes place in a simple circular arena surrounded by flag-laden posts from a big top. The dark outside rim of Hayley Grindle’s set allows musical instruments to be hung up and gives space for the cast to rearrange their costumes between characters. Andy Clark, David Leopold and Andrew Whitehead fulfil nine roles between them.

In the last 12 months at least half the plays I’ve seen in Belfast have included a firearm being discharged. Little Sure Shot beats them all in terms of the number of shots fired, but the sound effect is distinctly unalarming, a disappointingly limp low volume pop that emanates from the top left speaker rather than from the area on the stage where the gun was fired.

The five actors sing and strum country and western and assorted Americana throughout the two act show. Guitar, banjo, double bass, fiddle, harmonica and snare drum played live on top of some backing tracks and accompanied by five part singing. I’ve never seen someone skip while holding a guitar before!

The energy builds and wanes throughout the show. After the interval, the cast inject some oomph back into the audience with a routine of corny puns. The humour continues, with hoots of laughter for George the Poodle, and the audience encouraged to cheer along to Annie’s exhibition shooting and show routines. Some enthusiastic souls in the front row even started to heckle the answers to on-stage questions!

Pitched at children from 7 years and up, the kids attending Tuesday night’s performance really seemed to enjoy it. The show doesn’t shy away from the rougher aspects of Annie’s life, but deals with them sensitively. As an adult in the audience, Little Sure Shot was well executed but it didn’t hit my emotional bullseye … but then, I wasn’t the target.

Will I Am’s (predicted) verdict: Bang! Bang! Bang!

Little Sure Shot runs from 7pm-9pm until 10 May in The MAC. Tickets from £10 child/£15 adult.

Photos - Little Sure Shot Photography ®FarrowsCreative

Sunday, May 03, 2015

The Dutiful Wife (Off The Rails): turning a lapse of judgement into something a politician's spouse must get through #cqaf15

The Dutiful Wife is a short but explosive piece of contemporary dance theatre by Off The Rails that examines whether a political spouse can hold it together in public while anxiety and unease grows inside?

Can a politician’s wife rationalise her husband’s political rhetoric about integrity, loyalty and trust with reports of his unzipped trousers?

While NI politicians aren’t always the most charismatic, there’s still a familiar feel to the glad-handing and cheap platitudes handed out by the dancers as they welcome the audience entering the theatre space in The MAC as part of the Cathedral Arts Quarter Festival. [CQAF programme preview]

Two male dancers represent the campaigning politician who is “blessed with my wonderful wife” and promises voters that “the values we live by are faith, family and fortune”.

Three female dancers are at first glam and giddy as they nod along with commitment to their partner’s speeches and his references to trust and honour. There’s no escape as the cast maintain eye contact with everyone sitting around the walls of the studio.
“I married the smartest, toughest, sweetest man I know ... he’s deeply, deeply committed to his family, his God, and most importantly to you his people.”

The women’s frenetic verbal repetition of key parts of his stump speech (like the emphasise on stories of financial hardship from the early days of their relationship) contrasts with sharp physical ticks that portray a growing inner dissonance and turmoil being suppressed.
“ ... aggressively courting a 25 year old woman ...”

Suddenly-produced photographic evidence of infidelity is immediately dismissed as “just rumours” while the revealing snaps are frantically snatched out of audience members’ hands and destroyed. We watch as the political giant privately admits his “lapse in judgement” to his wife and uses the political ‘we’, abusively insisting that “we need to get through this” since “think what we could lose?”

Physically he crowds his wife, giving her little room to express anger or rejection. Advisors soon take over as the campaign machine attempts to recover from the politically damaging indiscretion:
“All you’ve got to do is stand there and smile ... you’ve done it before ... it’ll all be over before you know ... you’re a credit to the campaign ... you’re not doing it for him, you’re doing it for the children.”

At a press conference attended by a now-upstanding audience, the politician – at first with little shame – sticks to his carefully crafted excuses before journalists’ questions strip away his dignity, leaving his unravelling wife to pull herself together again and step forward to thank everyone for their attendance and support.

Dancers Paula O’Reilly, Oona Doherty and Lucia Kickham supply huge commitment, strength and energy to their roles as they collaborate to convey their duty and their internal wretching. They physically throw themselves at other members of the cast, walking up and down over each other as they ride the emotional rollercoaster.

Stevie Prickett and Stephen Clarke embody the very model of a modern major politician. They put the ‘I’ into ‘We’, physically and verbally squashing opportunities for dissent and retaking control of their wobbling personal narrative.

The clearly-delivered dialogue is taken from real political speeches and memoirs. Eileen McClory’s accessible choreography with small intimate gestures alongside big dramatic movements allows the audience to get inside the story and wrestle with the betrayal without having to wrestle with the meaning of the dance moves and their significance to the plot.

Low level lighting creates some memorable shadows while backing music amplifies the twisted emotion of the actions on the floor without becoming a distraction.

While Northern Ireland’s political class is not totally immune to sex scandals, there are sadly many other failures of leadership and integrity. A performance of The Dutiful Wife should really grace The Great Hall in Parliament Buildings as a reminder to politicians and spouses not to rely on undeserved loyalty in the advent of misadventure.

An unfunded dance company, Off The Rails are hoping that crowdfunding together with ticket sales will offset the cost of the production.

Universal themes delivered with physical and verbal oomph make The Dutiful Wife a delightful show to see. The last two performances are on Sunday 3 May at 3pm and 6pm. Catch it if you can

Cross-posted from Slugger O'Toole.

Friday, May 01, 2015

After Dresden (by Philip Orr) in Belvoir Players Studio Theatre (until Saturday 2)

Our individual and community capacity for empathy seems fundamental to how we deal with the past.

For Reverend Ray Davey, his work as padre/chaplain to British Prisoners of War in Saxony (near the city of Dresden) fed into his decision to open the Corrymeela Community up in Ballycastle in 1965, before Northern Ireland’s own Troubles erupted. Together with visits to the Iona and Italian Agape communities, his experience of camp guards and local residents in Germany, and his reflections on the Allied bombing raids in February 1945 that turned the German city into a firestorm drove his passion to “embrace difference, heal division and enable reconciliation”.

Philip Orr’s play After Dresden opened last night in a short run by the Belvoir Players. It contrasts the fictional O’Hara family’s reaction to a young man’s death in the Troubles with the wartime memories of Rev Tom Moore (based on Ray Davey’s exercise book diaries written in Germany).

As padre, Tom Moore has a degree of freedom to travel between prison camps in the region. He is unexpectedly befriended by Frau Klein in the village of Hohnstein who invites him into her house – “We German’s aren’t all evil you know” and learns about her attitudes towards her homeland and Herr Hitler. Her son died fighting on the Eastern Front at Stalingrad, and now her husband has been drafted.

She explains that when her pastor says “let us pray for our village” “many of us remember the prisoners in our prayers each Sunday”.
“It is not easy to pray for the defeat of the country we love.”
Frau Klein’s acts of invisible resistance include illicit listening to BBC radio broadcasts which inform her about the concentration camp at Auschwitz (denied by local Nazis) and encourage her that the war is near an end. Yet she fears that Russians will soon arrive in the area and knows that their acts of revenge on Germans will be brutal.

One of the play’s crucial moments comes as the padre and a British Major PoW listen to and watch the waves of Allied bombers flying over nearby Dresden. One man’s compassion for the inevitable casualties amongst civilians, refugees and the British PoWs he visits in the city is sharply juxtaposed with the other’s jubilation that the RAF are bringing “the fires of hell” down on the enemy. It is estimated that 22-25,000 people died in the raids, with 6.5 square kilometres of the city destroyed in the fires. The most sickening line of the play is:
“As raids go, it’s a Rembrandt.”
Vincent Vyce’s simple and bijou set provides two ‘rooms’ on an wooden-slatted oval floor along with an elevated garden bench. The stand out performances of the evening come from Aidan Hughes (playing the young Tom Moore); Austin Branagh (older Tom Moore) with his excellent eyebrows and sense of timing; Helina King who so confidently inhabits the role and accent of Frau Klein; and Gwen Scott (Siobhan O’Hara) who plays the sister of the murdered man and spent time in the Corrymeela-like "The Rock" community.

While a fictional script – albeit heavily based upon Ray Davey’s diaries – the play manages to steer away from a happy ending with all the loose ends tied up.   

Trevor Gill’s direction brings about some beautiful moments, particularly one scene where a monologue is seamlessly split between the old and young Tom Moore actors. Some of the minor parts don’t spend enough time on stage to make a big impact or round out their characters. Still, it’s a tight play that succeeds in remembering the bombing of Dresden, the life of Ray Davey and the formation of the Corrymeela Community in a manner that does so without a neat ending and without shying away from the complexity of conflict.

Four years ago at a public reading of an earlier draft of the play, I commented:
Philip Orr’s play constructs a moving and believable war time vignette, drawing the audience into the friendship that develops in Frau Klein’s front room. As we look through a window into the German house, the play helps us see our local conflict reflected in the glass. Can we learn how to understand our society’s pain through other’s experiences in even greater conflicts?
My 2011 interview with Philip Orr (which includes scenes from the original read through, not the Belvoir Players version!) explains more of the background to the play’s background and themes.

After Dresden continues in the Belvoir Players Studio Theatre until Saturday 2 May. Update – Friday night’s performance is sold out and will be followed by a post-show discussion with playwright Philip Orr, director Trevor Gill, Gladys Ganiel [read Gladys’ preview on Slugger O’Toole ... and her review] and UU’s Duncan Morrow. Some tickets (£9) are still available for Saturday evening.

Photos via Brian O'Neill.