The carpet is too clean. It’s almost mockingly pristine. But it doesn’t stay that way for long. By the end of David Ireland’s disturbing and absurdist play about the complexity of Ulster loyalist identity it’s tracked with mud and stained with blood.
There’s a lot going on in Cyprus Avenue. This Abbey Theatre and Royal Court co-production is the kind of play you could sit and pick at for hours. Stephen Rea plays a Belfast man who is worried that Protestant Unionist culture and identity will soon cease to exist, and that everyone will become a “Fenian.” Could it be that he is both Irish and British, and if so what does that mean for his sense of self? His paranoia is such that he even believes his five-week old granddaughter is in on things – he’s convinced she looks like Gerry Adams in miniature and tests this theory by drawing a little beard on her tiny baby face in marker pen.
At times Vicky Featherstone’s production resembles a brutal skit on the export of Irish culture, but at its best it’s altogether more long-limbed and questioning. There’s a jolting quality to the comedy. Rea handles the play’s shifts in tone and register superbly – he’s appalling but he’s also appallingly plausible, a melancholy and desperate man. There’s a gale force eight performance from Chris Corrigan, as a gun-toting balaclava-clad member of the UVF, while Wunmi Mosaku’s gentle therapist provides a necessary counterweight to the play’s more shocking tactics.
Though it is undoubtedly violent, it’s still hard to equate this smart, sharp, layered play with I Promise You Sex and Violence, Ireland’s 2014 Edinburgh non-com – this is caustic, audience-rattling writing, theatre that shakes you up.