The guitarist in my first Ulsterpunk band once remarked, "There are at least three guitar parts to this song; I take what I think are the most important two and play them." Ron Hutchinson has done likewise with quests for meaning amid Belfast's social and psychological rubble, only not as harmoniously as my mate.
RUC photographer Washburn cracks up, becoming obsessed with an unsolved death from 1871 and linking it with the murder that pushed him over the edge. Ian McElhinney gives a revealing portrayal of monomanic breakdown; lover Nuala (Fiona Victory) has to contend with both this and religious apartheid in police circles. The same masonic attitude to echt-Ulsterness stymies Victorian Dubliner Dr Mulcahy in his (simultaneously unfolding) attempt to solve the earlier death; both protagonists grapple with the ramifications of migration to and from the province.
So far, so followable – more or less; but when Washburn's wig-out reaches its apogee, the timelines become knotted in a psychotically imagined trial scene, and the play swirls anti-clockwise down its own gurgling plughole. If a concerned liberal emigré like me responds this way, the dear Lord alone knows what yous'uns this side of the water will make of it. Hutchinson shows intelligence and sensitivity, but he's bitten off more than Orca, Killer Whale could comfortably chew.
Written for City Limits magazine.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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