It’s 1798. Addressing the audience as “Citizens of Belfast”, as though rallying, Irish rebel Henry Joy McCracken (Paul Mallon) is fleeing the authorities with his partner and baby girl. His soul-searching about family and country is increasingly heightened, as there is a warrant out for his execution.
Adopting various styles from Irish literature and alluding to stereotypes (bar floozy; pub philosopher, thuggish Orangemen, caustic Beckettian Catholics, Wildean poet) the ramshackle humour mostly hits its targets. This is due to a strong supporting cast: particularly Darragh Kelly, Richard Clements and Ali Smith who slip effortlessly into disparate roles.
Stewart Parker’s text is dominated by notions of legacy, McCracken obsessing over missed opportunities to forge a peace treaty. It’s taking its toll on his relationship with outspoken lover Mary (Charlotte McCurry) who complains, “I can’t fornicate with a ghost”. He’s a wounded man,slave to the cause. Parker draws immediate parallels between McCracken’s underdog status and that of Ireland herself, governed by outsiders. Indeed, the English are portrayed as pompous, entitled and sexually rapacious.
Zia Holly’s set is impressive- a massive drum, hangman’s noose and ghostly wedding dress dominate the space.This all reinstates the meta nature of Parker’s text,where the bid for peace collides with theatrical tropes. Some of the cast hit the drum during tense moments, as well as playing folk songs on tin whistles and bodhrans.
The main problem with the production is that Paul Mallon as McCracken is outshone by other cast members-as good as he is, his low-key performance doesn’t really command the space. He feels too ineffectual to be a leader- but perhaps that’s the point director Lynne Parker is making.
The second half is dominated more by eulogies to a lost innocence, creating a strange disconnect between the ribald humour and dramatic interludes. As a result, this postmodern craic occasionally crackles, but often feels a little underwhelming.
Part of Mayfesto at Tron Theatre, Glasgow.
Until May 14th.