Thursday 17 October 2019

Double Cross at Peacock Theatre: Clever play about fascism strikes a contemporary chord

  • Double Cross Peacock Theatre, Dublin Until Nov 10

Roles of contrast: Ian Toner in Double Cross
Roles of contrast: Ian Toner in Double Cross

Katy Hayes

Plays are always affected by contexts. When Thomas Kilroy's World War II drama Double Cross was first produced in 1986 by Field Day Theatre Company in Derry, its emphasis on the peculiar relationship between Ireland and England would have been foremost in the minds of the audience. The Troubles were raging at the time and it was generally believed that Nazism was a spent force.

Now, in this revival (with a slightly altered text) by the Lyric Theatre and the Abbey Theatre, the Irishness/Englishness theme fades to the background and the investigation into the psychology of fascism becomes the predominant theme. This work feels so relevant and immediate, it could have been written yesterday.

The play is divided into two halves: the first tells the story of Brendan Bracken, the Irishman who became Winston Churchill's right-hand man and British Minister of Information during WWII. The second is about William Joyce, another Irishman, who worked for Goebbels's propaganda machine during the Nazi regime; he broadcast under the name Lord Haw-Haw.

The play has also come into its own on the technical front. There is much use of video; in the part dealing with Bracken, Joyce is sometimes present on projected screens, and vice versa. Advances in technology have enhanced this dramatic feature and Ciaran Bagnall's set it is a triumph, if that's not too Nazi a term.

The setting is traverse, the screens are wonderfully integrated; the art deco details of the first half are graceful and beguiling, but there is a general Nazification of the visuals in Act Two. Neil O'Driscoll's videos and Chris Warner's sound play a vital part in the show's atmospheric recreation of the 1940s. Gillian Lennnox's costumes and Paul Keogan's subtle lighting add the final details to this visually terrific experience.

Three excellent performances illuminate the material. Ian Toner plays both Bracken and Joyce, capturing the contrasts and similarities between these two driven ideologues. Sean Kearns plays all the other male parts; his Lord Beaverbrook, the newspaper man, is a memorable creation. Charlotte McCurry plays all the women, including Bracken's girlfriend Popsie and Joyce's wife Margaret. In this fine-tuned cerebral play, she brings tremendous emotional depth to Margaret.

Jimmy Fay directs with perfect timing and imposes total clarity on this complex torrent of ideas. This is a thoroughly enjoyable, illuminating and prescient work that is not to be missed.

A low-key drama of lives after the war

Dear Arabella Lyric Theatre, Belfast Until Nov 10

Marie Jones' latest play deals with the lingering fallout of World War II from the perspective of the women who maintained the home front and picked up the pieces afterwards. Set in the 1960s, it is composed of three monologues. First up is Jean (Katie Tumelty) who lives with her mother on the dark side of a Belfast street. Following the suicide of a neighbour, Jean defies her mother to go on an impulsive journey to the seaside. Jean's story is told with Jones' trademark wit and is packed with clever social observation.

The second story belongs to Elsie (Laura Hughes, in a captivating performance), a woman whose husband returned from the war missing an arm, and also missing his ability to love. The third story is of Arabella (Lucia McAnespie), whose husband was "lost at sea" during the war. Jean's defiant running away impacts on the other two women in a significant way. Peter McKintosh's pleasing set is dominated by a large seascape on the back wall, gracefully signifying the charm of the ocean's vastness.

Director Lindsay Posner generates a low-key, moving drama out of these ordinary lives. But the simplicity of the storytelling and the limitations of the monologue form prevent this beguiling material from really taking off.

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