There’s a cracking, crackling energy running through Jade City, an unfocused but undeniably powerful study of toxic masculinity and its victims.
Discussing themes of suicide and sexual assault, urban decay and economic stagnation, it’s a timely and ambitious piece, written in an engaging, lyrical mix of fluently captured Irish idiom and the particular staccato rhythm of matey banter.
Alice Malseed’s play is full of fittingly dark humour and recognisable nostalgic details, where sentimental memories of pick ‘n’ mix, BMX bikes, and Blue WKD collide with adult anxieties of poverty and loneliness.
Unfolding through impressionistic passages, the story follows uneducated, underemployed best friends Sas and Monty, haunting a Belfast working men’s club and passing time retelling the same old stories from their shared past, or trying to escape it through increasingly unlikely games of make-believe. It’s their coping mechanism, a way to circumvent the limited choices they’re faced with, a way to articulate the unspeakable – to face up to guilt, shame and depression.
Barry Calvert gives an energetic, highly physical performance as cocky lad Monty, squawking and flapping his arms like a seagull, swinging playful punches at Brendan Quinn’s hesitant, sensitive Sas, who squirms awkwardly as he plays along.
Director Katherine Nesbitt keeps them circling one another, swapping verbal volleys then pulling up barstools for a breather between rounds. Timothy Kelly’s design locates the action in the stark square of a community-centre boxing ring, simultaneously serving as a cage for the show’s damaged protagonists, and an arena for a showdown that never quite arrives.