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Poison and thwarted promise at heart of Border romance


Washed up: Patrick McBrearty and Liz FitzGibbon in The Border Game at the Lyric Theatre, Belfast. Photo by Ciaran Bagnall

Washed up: Patrick McBrearty and Liz FitzGibbon in The Border Game at the Lyric Theatre, Belfast. Photo by Ciaran Bagnall

Washed up: Patrick McBrearty and Liz FitzGibbon in The Border Game at the Lyric Theatre, Belfast. Photo by Ciaran Bagnall

The Border Game at the Lyric Theatre, Belfast run concluded

What is it like to live on the Border? This is the question tackled by Northern Irish writing duo Michael Patrick and Oisín Kearney in their second major political play. Here, living on the Border is filtered through a failed romance between neighbours Henry and Sinéad, their palpable lovers’ chemistry unable to surmount the political problems of their home place.

Henry (Patrick McBrearty) is a Protestant whose shopkeeper father was murdered by the IRA for selling cigarettes to British soldiers. Sinéad (Liz FitzGibbon) is a Catholic farmer’s daughter. She is repairing a fence, a spidery metaphor strung across Ciaran Bagnall’s hilly set. They initially got friendly at a mixed teenage choir and soon became a serious couple with a future. But the traumas of the place, and the atavistic energies of the politics, pulled them apart and back into their own mind-ghettos.

Now Sinéad is a farming single mum; formerly a vocal advocate of integrated education, she is sending her child to the local Catholic school. Henry has a Protestant girlfriend, Jane, to whom he is thinking of proposing. As time is marching forwards, they are drifting backwards.

Co-produced by Prime Cut and the Lyric Theatre, the play is informed by a major research project conducted by the writers, who interviewed 100 Border dwellers. The research is evident in the rich details of Border jokes and smuggling scenarios.

Director Emma Jordan keeps the romance central for narrative purposes. She neatly incorporates flashbacks to their teenage selves, as well as a certain amount of documentary material. The serious stuff, including schoolgirl Sinéad’s finding of a dead soldier’s body on her farm, and the killing of Henry’s father, provide stark sobering moments, carried beautifully by the two actors.

The centenary of the creation of Northern Ireland has already caused trouble, including the controversy about President Michael D Higgins’ non-attendance at a recent church service in Armagh. This touching play puts the issues through a moving interpersonal filter. It doesn’t so much drain the Border of its poison but lays the poison out on the hilly landscape to air; a theatrical thinking-tool worth a mountain of opinion pieces.

Gangsters can’t escape their influences

Pop Tart Lipstick at Glass Mask Theatre, Dawson St, Dublin
until October 30

This new play by Rex Ryan for his own company Glass Mask is a lively joust with concepts of masculinity. It wears its influences very obviously: plenty of Pinteresque menace; Tarantinoesque elevation of the mundane (Pop Tarts in this case); and Martin McDonaghesque shouting.

Playwright Enda Walsh’s fingerprints are here too in the role-playing. The scenario is: tough guy Harris, played by Ryan himself, returns from a spell in prison to the flat of his former sidekick John (Kyle Hixon). He expects to find everything the same, but John has got a job, a reading habit and a girlfriend. The two men’s relationship has an ambiguous gay aspect. Perhaps they were lovers, perhaps they are in denial.

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While there is some writing talent here, there is little that is original. When the play deals with its most interesting subject matter, the complex dynamics between macho men and their followers, it falters and loses confidence.

Ryan is hyper-alert to the advantages of tension as a dramatic too. Director Stephen Jones emphasises this. As actors, both Ryan and Hixon are impressive in their respective dominant and recessive personalities.

The script has plenty of humour and the 80-minute show is consistently engaging. But if Ryan is serious about playwriting, he needs to ditch his influences and find a more authentic voice.

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