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I Am of Ireland review at Old Red Lion, London – ‘boldly written’

In I Am of Ireland, Seamus Finnegan trains the keenest of eyes on his country’s religious tensions, sectarian scarring, ethnic resentments and diaspora of its people.

Directed by his longtime collaborator Ken McClymont, all of Finnegan’s material is sharp: a Jamaican priest is stabbed in a racist attack while two old friends argue over a grave. Another priest is sent to South America for some unspecified, seemingly sexual crime, and Euan Macnaughton is charmingly understated as a man reflecting on his murder of three RUC officers during the Troubles. Wry humour comes courtesy of Richard Fish’s bulldog-like bishop, in some of the most memorable scenes.

Mike Leopold’s Cornelia Parker-inspired explosion of a set cleverly conveys the aftermath of violence in which the characters still live, the framed Monet of the Houses of Parliament suggesting the bombing of a Loyalist stronghold. It’s a dame that the lighting is straightforwardly functional lighting. The production also feels constrained in the Old Red Lion space: frequent entrances and exits grow tiring, and the performances often feel static, despite Finnegan’s lively command of language.

Few characters’ lives overlap, most remaining isolated examples of misery, determination or both. By losing a few threads or adding another half an hour to its running time, some of the arcs might come together more clearly, but ultimately Finnegan’s play is deft in communicating Ireland’s ongoing search for absolution. Or, at the very least, reparations.

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An ambitious and boldly written modern Irish epic