Saturday, September 30, 2023

Lies Where It Falls – upsetting and uplifting (Fresh and Well Productions in the Lyric Theatre until Sunday 1 October)

Lies Where It Falls is a theatrical memoire, an incredibly personal retelling of a set of moments in Ruairi Conaghan’s life and career. We hear about the highs and lows of sharing his name with his uncle, Judge Rory Conaghan who was shot by the IRA and died when Ruairi was just eight years old. And the highs and lows of the acting profession which can bring about remarkable opportunities, not all of which Ruairi felt he could rise to.

Ruairi is an expressive actor, one of the best. One moment, he can be nimble with his glances; the next, he’s throwing his full body into a shape to explode into another point. While he riffs about what it means to be ‘authentic’ during this one man show, the performance undoubtedly reeks of authenticity. The set is uncluttered, though the ambience is a little overcomplicated by the frequency of the lighting mood changes. The pre-show musak featuring Ennio Morricone is a hint of what is to come.

The waves from his uncle’s murder have long rippled through Ruairi’s life. He was asked to play the role of Patrick Magee (who planted the bomb in the Brighton Grand Hotel that targeted prime minister Margaret Thatcher) in a stage production examining Magee’s relationship with Jo Berry (whose father, Conservative MP and deputy chief whip Sir Anthony Berry, was one of the five people killed when the bomb exploded).

Was Ruairi betraying his family and its tragic history by portraying and giving voice and truth to Magee who describes his actions as those of “a soldier”? He explains the awkward and almost dysfunctional meetings between cast, Magee and Berry. (A few years ago, I witnessed an extended conversation between Magee and Berry. They’ve met a lot over the years since their first encounter after his release from prison. Coming from a very different place and with less weighty baggage, I too felt troubled … mostly around the power dynamics and Magee’s demeanour while participating in this oft-repeated conversation of reconciliation that at times felt more like penance or a guilt-offering than something he benefitted from. I should really read his book to find out more.)

Patrick O’Kane’s direction has shaped Ruairi’s writing into a coherent and compelling performance. It’s not all about IRA killings, though dying in state of grace is a recurring theme. Amid interruptions from his ‘lovely’ agent Mark, other losses are explored during the 70-minute show along with the effect of Ruairi’s anxiety and depression on his health and career. Interleaving the words of an earlier trauma into his delivery of a speech from The Player King in Hamlet is beautiful and enchanting.

Ruairi Conaghan is a proud son of Magherafelt. And Mid Ulster/South Derry should be proud of Ruairi. Lies Where It Falls is a dark, solemn and comedic piece of personal story-telling that upsets and uplifts. A study of whether an actor – who is just a human after all – can be reconciled with themselves. You can catch the final performance in this run in the Lyric Theatre on Sunday 1 October at 3pm.

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