This is the first London production of On McQuillan’s Hill, by County Armagh-born playwright Joseph Crilly. It’s directed with a sensitive ear for snatching comedy from the jaws of conflict by Jonathan Harden, former artistic director at the Lyric Theatre Studio, Belfast, where it was first staged in 2000.
The dark, satirical script still burns with authenticity and intimate knowledge of the macro and micro politics of rural Ulster. Crilly’s writing relishes pitting complicated characters against each other, letting them simmer over their perceived betrayals and then burn with the ferocity of years of pent-up anger.
After the Good Friday Agreement, former IRA member Fra Maline (an acerbic Johnny Vivash) is released from prison. His daughter, Theresa, performed with a lost look and sharp tongue by Julie Maguire, throws a party for him at the crumbling hall, of which we only see a small corner on the Finborough’s small stage.
Fra’s single-minded sister Loretta, played by Gina Costigan with an anger that conceals her heartache, is back after two decades’ absence, wanting to build bridges. But unbeknown to Fra, she has purchased the hall and invited her old lover and Fra’s one-time IRA superior Ray (Declan Rodgers) to help fix it up. While the men wrestle over past tensions of sectarian violence, it’s the damaged women who you really hope can find a way to overcome the traumas they’ve endured.
After the playwright took his own life in 2017, his friends published a collection of three of his most popular plays. This revival shows that Crilly’s work deserves a new lease of life.