Friday 15 December 2017

Review 'Cyprus Avenue' at Peacock Theatre: Brilliant and provocative new play

Stephen Rea and Amy Molloy in ‘Cyprus Avenue’ at the Abbey Theatre. Photo:
Stephen Rea and Amy Molloy in ‘Cyprus Avenue’ at the Abbey Theatre. Photo:

Katy Hayes

The play begins with an encounter between Eric (Stephen Rea) and his psychiatrist Bridget (Wunmi Mosaku) in a clean crisp office. Eric is clearly damaged, but appears harmless.

The story has a surreal and comical premise: a staunchly Unionist man thinks his five-week-old baby granddaughter looks like Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams.

There is much meta-theatrical playfulness: the baby is played by a doll; a character shoots himself and then walks off the stage. But this playfulness slowly becomes a manifestation of psychosis.

It becomes clear how much trouble Eric is in. And by proxy, how much of a crisis Ulster loyalist identity is in.

The plot is expertly spun and completely unpredictable. Director Vicky Featherstone strikes a pitch-perfect tone and lures the audience in to a cosy comical state.

There is plenty of humour; some in wretchedly bad taste, arising from racist comments and coarse language, so the laughter feels transgressive. It makes the audience a bit nervous. Should they really be laughing?

By the end, the smiles are wiped away.

Soundscape by David McSeveney is excellent, giving an audio dimension to the baby, and there is one show-stoppingly effective violent sound effect.

All the performances are good, but Rea’s superb talent, here witnessed up close in the round, is a treat not to be missed.

Playwright David Ireland says his aim was to write an “epic state of the nation play about Ulster Protestantism.”

If the work is to be taken at face value as a thesis, it suggests that loyalism is a bogus identity, invented to further British imperialism, and has its ultimate expression in psychosis.

There is a lot of cultural self-hatred here: the only night of fun Eric has ever had was getting drunk with a London-Irish man in an Irish pub in London, the only time he allowed himself to be Irish.

But Ireland is clearly a provocateur, the writing is brilliant and sharp as a blade, and his thesis will find its ultimate exploration post show.

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