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Edward and Eliza and the Smashing of the Van review at Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester – ‘committed performances’

Alison Darling and Dominic Gately Alison Darling and Dominic Gately

The tragic events 150 years ago that inspired this modest two-hander happened only a few miles away from the Manchester venue in which it starts its run. But writer Eileen Murphy’s decision to tell that story through the prism of a marriage inextricably linked to that fateful day makes it feel closer to home in more ways than one.

In 1867, a group of Fenians ambushed a police van taking two prominent Irish Republicans to jail, killing policeman Charles Brett in the process.

Brett’s brother Edward was a former British Army drum major who lived in Macclesfield with his Irish wife Eliza and their two children. Murphy has taken these real historical facts and then imagined the toll that the murder and subsequent trial must have had on the couple at a time when a frenzy of anti-Irish feeling was sweeping the country.

Chris Honer’s production is not exactly lavish and the action that unfolds on designer Neil Duffield’s decidedly homespun set borders on the static, especially as some of the more dramatic incidents are described rather than enacted.

But Murphy has clearly taken considerable care with her script, lacing it with palpably authentic details and richly lyrical – but still believable – dialogue.

The way in which the couple’s love ebbs away as Edward begins to question where Eliza’s loyalties lie is convincingly portrayed.

And even if, thanks to some rather obvious foreshadowing, the tragic conclusion is all too predictable, the committed performances of Alison Darling and Dominic Gately lift it above mere history lesson.


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A short and sharp no-frills production that brings to life the human cost of a 150-year-old tragedy