Friday, May 24, 2019

Now for the North – tender listening to herstory rather than history (Three’s Theatre Company at Lyric Theatre until 24 May)

Theatre can both lift us out of our current situation and allow us to step into the shoes of other people in other places, even in other times, and also help us to pause and examine ourselves in the light of an unfolding scene or pain.

While promenade theatre runs the risk of adding movement and discomfort to distract from the performance, it can also shift audiences into unusual locations that amplify the verbal and physical messages being imparted by the actors.

Three’s Theatre Company under the leadership of Anna Leckey has built a solid reputation for telling site-specific and engaging stories. Now for the North is being performed on the first anniversary of the Irish Referendum that repealed the 8th Amendment in the Republic of Ireland.

Thirty of us stand in the women’s toilet downstairs in the south Belfast venue watching someone worry about the uncertain effectiveness of the morning after pill. Not unlike a rehearsal room or dance studio, the wide mirrors give normally unseen perspectives in a place that half the audience normally walk past on the way to the less roomy men’s facilities.

There’s a mixture of poetry (one set to dance), written word, music, monologues and conversations in rooms, landings and back stairs of the Lyric Theatre. Faces familiar from previous Three’s Company pieces as well as new talent can be seen out front and back of stage.

The typed-out thoughts of pregnant women and a GP (who feels that they are failing their patients by not being legally allowed to talk in any detail about the options they could consider) are accompanied by the shoes the people wore: very powerful props and imagery. A boyfriend (played by Cailum Carragher) wrestles with his instincts, emotions and values as he realises that the choice is not his. At one point there’s some added drama as two workmen step into a dark lift shaft and disappear from view.

The stand-out moment for me was a conversation between two young women planning a trip to a concert in Manchester. Gina Donnelly’s dialogue was bursting of humour – “it’s 50% of Oasis and it’s not 1996” – and pathos. While Rosie Barry gushes about the luxury-on-a-budget weekend they could enjoy, tealalolic Elisha Gormley’s character is uncomfortable with the idea of staying in a hotel (“[just] two teabags: for an Irish woman it’s not right”), turning to the audience and breaking the fourth wall to slowly explain how this suggestion brings back memories of a deeply painful and lonely experience. It’s an emotional triumph.

Having played around with romantic Valentines-inspired promenade theatre, Three’s Company have graduated to a new level of maturity and tackled something that can’t just be played for laughs or sympathy. The narrative thread present in some previous work is missing, choosing to tell unlinked stories rather than concentrate on a smaller number of characters.

Now for the North has poise and tact, believing in the power of listening the thoughts and feelings of relatable people who are making difficult choices in less than ideal circumstances to understand rather than judge them, without any need to resort to preaching blunt messages or relying on techniques that simply shock-for-effect. While Now for the North is undeniably a piece of campaigning theatre (and 20% of ticket sales are being donated to Alliance For Choice) it is mature and level-headed and will hopefully return for a longer and more developed run later in the year.

The final performance of this run of Now for the North was at 8.10pm in the Lyric Theatre.

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