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Hard to be Soft: A Belfast Prayer review at Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh – ‘deeply moving’

Oona Doherty in Hard To Be Soft: A Belfast Prayer at Edinburgh International Festival. Photo: Gaelle Beri Oona Doherty in Hard to be Soft: A Belfast Prayer at Edinburgh International Festival. Photo: Gaelle Beri
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Oona Doherty’s Hard to be Soft: A Belfast Prayer is inspired by the people of her home city. It explores the things that lie hidden beneath the mask of masculinity.

The piece is split into sections. In the first, choral music fills the theatre only to be drowned out by the sounds of a heated argument. This transforms into a collage of sounds that shift and overlap. Dressed in white, Doherty viciously shakes her body, her fists clenched, anger seeping from every muscle. But her eyes are watery; she’s trying to fight back the tears. Every gesture Doherty creates is filled with deep emotion.

In the next section, a group of teenage women – the “Sugar Army” – enters. They embrace one another before moving into a sharp hip-hop sequence, dancing as one unit. Their performance is a show of strength; they are not going to be taken for a ride.

The final scenes are the most resonant. Two men enter and provide us with a glimpse of the unspoken vulnerability that lies behind their masculine armour. They shuffle around the stage, holding each other. Are they embracing or wrestling? Are they supporting one another or pushing each other away?

Ciaran Bagnall’s cage-like design is remarkable; it constantly redefines and changes the space. As the piece comes to a close, sharp beams of light hit the bars, creating a startling altar. Like the piece as a whole, it’s deeply moving.

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Oona Doherty's deeply moving dance piece inspired by the men and women of Belfast