Billy Cowan’s Smilin’ Through is a hard-hitting play with a strong message and is at times exhilaratingly surreal. It tackles the strains and dilemmas imposed on the Northern Irish by the Troubles head on, with a specific focus on the gay world. The excellent cast live up to the script, making it their own.
The raucous and hardened Peggy, who has been so traumatised by the Troubles that she wants to control everything in her home, is so well interpreted by Gillian Hanna that it is difficult to imagine anyone else in the role.
Peggy is loud, rude and harsh but deep down she craves to let go and be happy again, like she used to. To find this she escapes in her imagination to extraordinary thirties dreams where she is Jeanette MacDonald, wooed by a fantastical Nelson Eddy, played by Allison Harding.
The centrepiece of the play is her son Kyle, played by Marty Rea, whose full-on scenes with boyfriend Donal - played by Terence Corrigan - and very camp mannerisms leave no doubt about his sexuality. When Kyle admits his homosexuality to his mum she wants him out, with the admission made worse by the fact that Donal is Catholic.
The play wonderfully shows the journey Peggy has to make to face up to her gremlins and to get her priorities right. The dialogues between her and Kyle are the highlights of the play, being thought-provoking and mostly very funny.
The show ends in style with a touching sing-song, which gives the play its name, by the reconciled mother and son.