Vicky Featherstone’s production of David Ireland’s knotty play is returning to London’s Royal Court following an acclaimed run in the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs in 2016.
Despite featuring six characters – Eric (Stephen Rea), his wife Bernie (Andrea Irvine), his daughter Julie (Amy Molloy), his therapist Bridget (Ronke Adekoluejo), his Ulster Volunteer Force acquaintance Slim (Chris Corrigan), and his granddaughter Mary-May – in many ways it feels like a one-man play. This is where its brilliance and its limitations lie.
The production has the air of a slick, well-oiled machine – albeit a machine capable of chomping its audience up into tiny pieces then vomiting out the remains.
Eric believes his newly born granddaughter is actually Gerry Adams and he takes what he thinks is appropriate action. Much has been written about the play’s violence, but its truly tongue-biting quality comes more from the build-up than the execution.
Rea is the epicentre of the production. He gives a phenomenal performance. Slouched in a too-big suit, he looks like his whole being has crumpled in on itself. He’s terrifying and hilarious – or maybe it’s just terrifying that he’s capable of being hilarious.
Adekoluejo and Irvine are new to the cast and they do good work, but with the exception of Slim (superbly acted by Corrigan) everyone apart from Eric – particularly the female characters – are thinly sketched and feel more functional than fully formed. It’s this that stops an otherwise clever, complex and disconcerting play from being truly great.