Tuesday, July 26, 2022

In the Name of the Son – frenzied portrayal of a man unable to find freedom (Grand Opera House until Saturday 30 July)

Within the opening ten minutes of In the Name of the Son, actor Shaun Blaney has conveyed Gerry Conlon’s journey into and out of prison, through his bespoke shop-lifting which was interrupted by the Troubles, his unexpected arrest for IRA bombings in Guildford, his father’s arrest and subsequent death in prison having travelled over the England to get him a solicitor, and the quashing of Gerry’s conviction.

Yet the tragedy has only begun. Richard O’Rawe and Martin Lynch’s play (based on O’Rawe’s book) demonstrates that Conlon might have been freed from his cell, the Belfast man was still imprisoned by the lasting effects of the miscarriage of justice, and in particular the death of his father. Conlon is driven to see the film In the Name of the Father go into production with a strong cast. But will the process be the end of him?

Blaney delivers a frenzied performance, leaping around the ingenious set from which there is no freedom, dancing, switching characters, and at one stage beating himself up in a particularly comedic fight.

This is precision theatre, with zero room for hesitation, never mind error. Layers of sound effects need to perfectly align with lighting cues and Blaney’s position on the set. Then, bang, onto the next, and the next. It’s the theatrical version of a giant set of unstoppable dominos falling over to create a beautiful pattern out of chaos. How director Tony Devlin can hold all the moving parts in his head never mind the technical team and the actor is a marvel.

At times, Garth McConaghie’s sound design takes on the quality of a film score with key moments in the script bolstered by sweeping strings. But it’s in the quieter scenes, sometimes without any dialogue, that the noise of pipes running through prison cells or the melee of a bar will enrich the one man show and lift the audience closer to the enormous Grand Opera House stage.

In the Name of the Son is not an easy play to watch. Conlon’s spiral into drink and drugs is very destructive. His lack of respect for others – particularly women – mirrors his lack of self-respect. His suicidal thoughts create bleak moments in a story that is becomes more shade than light as it progresses.

Levity comes in the least expected places: the toilets bogs at the Oscars turns out to be fertile ground for Conlon interacting with well-known actors and singers and demonstrating Blaney’s versatility.

But it’s the conversations with Conlon’s mother that are the most touching moments of the two-hour play. She’s portrayed as the one person who will stand up to Conlon, challenging his sense of survivor’s guilt and holding him to account.

In the Name of the Son continues in the Grand Opera House until Saturday 30 July. 

Photo credit: Johnny Frazer

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