If nothing else, lockdown provided time and space to discover a wealth of acting, directing and writing talent that might otherwise have passed me by. In the latter category I “discovered” the work of David Ireland the appropriately named Belfast playwright whose most well-known piece Cyprus Avenue shocked audiences with its pitch black hilarity and violence in a stream from the Royal Court. A later and equally disturbing play, Sadie, then popped up as part of the BBC’s Lights Up festival. These two compelling dramas meant that the writer’s work has been high on my “to see” list now that normality has more or less been restored. Not Now currently playing at the pocket sized Finborough, which has championed some of Ireland’s other work, has many of the same concerns of the earlier plays but is much briefer and far less shocking. However, it is a perfectly formed little gem which shows that the writer is more than able to approach difficult subjects through a different lens and confirms his status as a major modern dramatist.
Set as ever in the writer’s native Northern Ireland the piece, once again, questions the whole notion of identity and its associated politics through two related but quite different characters. Young Matthew is hoping to get into RADA and is up bright and early to practise his audition speech, the opening monologue from Richard III. It’s clear that Matthew’s characterisation approach is heavily influenced by Olivier’s famous portrayal and his over exaggerated stance and vocal choices do not bode well – he’s having a particular struggle with inflecting the opening word “Now”. Uncle Ray thinks that he is being helpful with his suggestions for improvement – principally that his nephew should use his native brogue and Irish charm to win over the, what he calls RADAR, audition panel. The problem is that Matthew regards himself as British and doesn’t want to come across as something that he isn’t. As Ray points out there’s not much point in trying to be an actor then.
This opening section is playfully hilarious even when it is examining some sobering subject matter such as the sectarian strife and one family’s involvement in and reaction to the past troubles. Set against the background of the funeral of Matthew’s father/Ray’s brother the day before, the play gradually starts to expose a dark family secret about the departed. The sexual insecurities of the protagonists are also made manifest and shared as another aspect of identity comes under the microscope. There’s a tenderness evident in this middle sequence as the two men come to a better understanding of each other and realise there is as much that they share as that which divides them. The play returns to comedy for the coda but this is more about a sense of hope for the future and a celebration of who the two men are.
The pair of actors do a superb job in bringing the nephew and uncle quickly to life and sustaining believable characters throughout. Matthew Blaney is all gangly limbs and nervous glances as the aspiring actor and there’s real depth to his shock and surprise as he finds out the hidden past of first his father and then his uncle. Even better is Stephen Kennedy as the plain speaking painter and decorator who exudes a deal of confidence which actually masks deep seated insecurity. Kennedy has expert comic timing and makes the running gag of misremembered names a thing of joy. The moment when he confuses George Michael and George Clooney brought a huge wave of laughter from a capacity audience.
There’s a simple but effective kitchen table setting from Ceci Calf though that does mean that the centre of the traverse stage doesn’t get used that often. I could also have wished that director Max Elton might have moved his two characters around a bit more as they both seemed mostly rooted to one end or the other – unless that was some deliberate ploy to suggest the divide between the generations and their respective outlooks. These though are very minor points in a production that zipped by in just fifty minutes and said just what it needed to say and didn’t really need to say any more. David Ireland’s clever construction and insistence on brevity along with brace of assured and persuasive performances would be hard to better. Go see (that is, if you can get hold of a ticket!)
Production photos by Lidia Crisafulli
Not Now is at Finborough Theatre – click here
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