Monday, August 29, 2022

The Border Game – playful yet deadly serious (Prime Cut Productions, now on tour around Ireland until 1 October)

After Puckoon, The Border Game is probably my favourite play to tackle the absurdities and complexity of the 310 mile line that splits north from south on this island. (Yes, I’d put it ahead of Friel’s Translations.)

Staged as part of last year’s Belfast International Arts Festival, Michael Patrick and Oisín Kearney’s play is back on tour with Prime Cut Productions. The tautness of the script is much improved now that the interval cliff hanger has been ditched.

An old customs hut now lies derelict on farmland that straddles the border. Once the scene of cross-community rutting by a farmer’s daughter and the son of the local grocery store, it’s now where local youths come to party, and where hungover Henry (Patrick McBrearty) spent the night to clear his head. When he wakes up he finds old flame Sinead (Cat Barter in this new tour) clearing up the mess from the partying trespassers.

McBrearty continues to revel in the comedy voices and playful skits as the pair reminisce about the good old days and belatedly deconstruct the ill-understood fault line that fractured their relationship. Barter really exploits the undercurrent of familiarity and the pair’s knowledge about how to press each other’s buttons. Their sparring, verbal and physical, is joyful to watch. Their commitment to full immersion in the mad disco scene seals the impact of a crucial beat in the plot.

Ciaran Bagnall’s set is still full of surprises, and the fact that a barbed wire fence is being fixed with cable ties is perhaps yet another metaphor for the political and policy sticking plasters that are applied to this island’s wounds as a form of damage limitation.

The cleverness of The Border Game’s construction is the way that it litters the production with clues about the pair’s history and the wider socio-political situation in the area while Sinead and Henry clear up the detritus that is spoiling the landscape in which they grew up together. It’s very playful, yet deadly serious as the character’s observe: “this place used to be the centre, now it’s the edge”.

After three nights in the Lyric Theatre, The Border Game is now touring through Galway (Wednesday 31 August), Dublin (Saturday 3 September), Market Place Theatre, Armagh (Wednesday 7), Roscommon (Tuesday 13), Monaghan (Thursday 15), Dundalk (Saturday 17), Sligo (Wednesday 21), Letterkenny (Friday 23 and Saturday 24), Limerick (Tuesday 27 and Wednesday 28), Drogheda (Saturday 1 October). 

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