Thursday, September 15, 2022

Lockdown DLA – an odd couple bubbled up in a miasma of despair and squalor: a tonic for serious times (The MAC until Sunday 18 September)

The Dundonald Liberation Army harbour a grudge against the good people of Lisburn and the self-proclaimed freedom fighters are seeking independence from the city-siders in their council area. Wedding and birthing plans are thrown into disarray in March 2020 when paramilitary bigwig Davy (Matthew McElhinney) finds himself holed up in his flat with school friend and useful accomplice John ‘Horse’ McCracken (Matthew Forsythe) during lockdown.

Stephen G Large’s script knowingly looks back at the fears and uncertainties of those early days of the pandemic, with rumours and conspiracies circulating, and regular political announcements dashing hopes of an early easing of the restrictions. Lockdown DLA avoids harvesting cheap and easy laughs from paramilitary gags or dirty jokes. Given the Covid death-toll, it could have been tasteless.

Instead, Lockdown DLA uses the two years of collective perspective to poke fun at our early attitudes to the deadly ‘Rona, social distancing and the wearing of masks, something Davy knows quite a bit about. The audience laugh knowingly at the idea that UK government politicians were living with the very same restrictions and abiding by the rules they were setting.

It’s cathartic to be reminded of the panic buying, the competitive clapping, online exercise classes, banana bread baking, and the difficult to comprehend sequence of easements. We laugh now, aware that hindsight is a luxury unavailable at the time.

McElhinney and Forsythe have great fun on stage, a fine pair of comic actors whose sense of timing is rewarded with roars of laughter throughout. Despite being a wannabe authority figure in his local community, Davy is hugely sceptical of what he’s hearing from those in actual power through the media. The stress of it all makes him very hungry and thirsty, with McElhinney constantly eating and drinking his way through the first act.

Horse’s IQ hasn’t yet reached retirement age, and Forsythe plays up this ingénue’s naïve misunderstandings of facts and phrases. They wrestle with each other and the absurd situations they find they find themselves in as the pair try to find a way to break out of their bubble to attend a birth in the Ulster Hospital and make it to a beach wedding in Thailand.

With circumstances keeping Davy and Horse apart from their loved ones, the unlikely couple sink into a miasma of despair. Gerard McCabe’s direction plays up both the squalor of the cramped flat and the unstable moods of its occupants. Get rich quick schemes add to the debris, while bottles, cans and nibbles straight out from Abigail’s Party fill every surface. Quick on-stage changes and enormous props add to the comedy. A clock helps the audience follow the jumps forward in time.

It was good to be in a theatre with an audience who had no hesitation in showing their unabashed enjoyment for a local show with familiar themes. Lockdown DLA is a tonic for serious times. Soda Bread Theatre’s production continues at The MAC until Sunday 18 September including a signed performance on Thursday 15.

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