Chronicles Of Long Kesh / This Is Now / Lilly Through The Dark
Various venues, Edinburgh
August, 2009

**** / **** / ****

When an East Belfast Protestant Unionist recommends a play by and about West Belfast Catholic Nationalists, that's some recommendation. It's also a little reductive: Loyalist prisoners as well as Republicans were held in the Northern Irish camp that is the setting here, and Martin Lynch's play gives time and respect to them as well. However, inevitably the focus becomes the "blanket protest" of the late 1970s, which escalated in the '80s into the hunger strikes that took ten lives before the British authorities effectively restored political status to paramilitary prisoners.

It's hard to conceive of a more earnest Irish subject. However, despite the occasional impassioned set-piece political speech, the more common note is that of sardonic working-class Ulster humour, as the divers inmates strive simply to make the experience survivable for themselves and each other. Lynch and co-director Lisa May stage the play simply, with only a handful of rostra as a set. However, the cast of six – most notably Marty Maguire and Chris Corrigan – make every moment live. It's a powerful reminder of what happened, yet also an affirmation that we are at last moving on.

The '80s also feature large in New Art Club's This Is Now, but in a far more absurd way, at least superficially. Tom Roden and Pete Shenton start with their rediscovery of a cassette of the first Now That's What I Call Music album from 1983; from the hits of Bonnie Tyler, Men Without Hats et al. they fashion a series of routines about memory and growing up. New Art Club straddle the forms of dance and comedy (or, I suppose, perform the splits between them: they have one show in each category of this year's Fringe programme), but there is more profundity, and more skilfully treated, in this show than in much of the theatre I have seen this season.

Another hybrid of sorts is Lilly Through The Dark. Post-student company The River People bring a Victorian-Gothic tatterdemalion aesthetic to their tale of a girl searching for her father through the land of the dead. They blend live action and puppetry with an unfussy adroitness; much larger projects could ruin the delicacy of their touch, but they deserve to go on to greater things.
Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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