WORTH A LOOK?: ****
WHERE? Royal Court Theatre RUNTIME: 100 minutes (no interval)
WHEN? 16/2/, opens 19/2, runs to 23/3/19
We’re in the 5th row and we count 3 members of the audience who head for the exit early as this startling play hurtles inexorably towards its terrifying conclusion.
- Read on for reasons including why this play seems especially relevant now
Stephen Rea plays Eric Miller a Loyalist grandfather and resident of the eponymous well-heeled Cyprus Avenue in Belfast who believes his five-week-old granddaughter is in fact Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams.
It’s a ridiculous idea but 1 author David Ireland uses to illuminate how illogical hatred, racism and bigotry is.
Miller hates Catholics and uses a black marker to scrawl a pretend beard on his granddaughter and buys a toy pair of spectacles to see if she really resembles the man he loathes. Later, perhaps to underscore Miller’s muddled thinking, he wonders whether he is what he hates.
Director Vicky Featherstone (also the Royal Court’s Artistic Director and director of The Cane and My Mum’s A Twat) switches the action between the family’s Cyprus Avenue home in the past and Miller’s psychiatrist’s office in the present as we begin to learn how he might have arrived there.
With the Irish backstop currently proving a sticking point in Brexit negotiations and the UK divided between Brexiteers and Remainers this revival seems apt. Cyprus Avenue sold out on its run in this venue in 2016 and transferred to the Public Theatre, New York, before moving to the Abbey Theatre in Dublin and The MAC Belfast.
It’s already won awards: Best New Play at the Irish Times Theatre Awards in 2017 (where Rea also won Best Actor) and the James Tait Black Prize for Drama in 2017.
This black comedy reminds of some of the best work of Martin McDonagh and there’s plenty of black comedy peppered throughout the piece to make the medicine of the message be stomached more easily.
But it’s Rea (pictured left above) whose portrait of a family man living in the past fighting battles that few care about any more that is most vivid – if you can see the story out to its bloody end.