Bloody Sunday prosecution, abortion legalisation, family loyalty and annoying strangers at bus stops – Kate Reid’s play translates Northern Ireland’s complex politics and history into a finely wrought and entertaining hour.
Set in the autumn of 2019, The 4th Country unfolds in a series of narrative shifts. We see the department of health, overworked while Stormont is closed, grappling to exert “damage control” over the death of a woman related to those killed in the Bloody Sunday massacre.
Another scene reveals Connor (Cormac Elliott) confronting his English lawyer girlfriend Anna (Aoife Kennan) about her defence of Solider F, the unnamed ex-paratrooper who remains the only person to be tried for the massacre.
It is testament to Reid’s writing that such weighty topics never feel short-changed or overblown; historic violence and injustice find resonance in everyday encounters. A chance meeting at a bus stop reveals the story of a woman forced to carry her baby for four months despite the fact she knows it will die, a month before the abortion law is legalised in Northern Ireland.
Gabriella Bird’s production is never maudlin. It uses humour deftly, whether in the arch of an eyebrow, the coffee-making inabilities of an earnest intern or the wry acknowledgement of Derry-Londonderry’s politically complicated etymology.
The cast members all give strong performances but Rachael Rooney is particularly brilliant, capturing an acerbic sister in one scene and vulnerable yet steely newly pregnant mother in the next. The production’s dynamic rhythm is only derailed by the fourth wall-breaking interludes, which detract from the gripping material.
Slick costume changes accompanied by Catja Hamilton’s use of blue and purple washes lend an eerie feeling to the piece, atmospherically silhouetting the actors.