This Other City

Daragh Carville's tale of the new Belfast convinces

Daragh Carville’s latest play opens with a 40-something Belfast professional, well groomed in a nice suit, addressing parties unknown. ‘I’m a good man,’ says Patrick Hunter, played by Miche Doherty. ‘You understand me? I’m a good man. Now come here. I want to fuck you in the skull.'

For his third collaboration with Tinderbox Theatre Company – following the critically acclaimed Language Roulette and Family Plot – Carville has turned his attention to the demons beneath the shiny surface of the new, metropolitan Belfast.

This Other City plays out against a backdrop of coffee shops, beauty salons and overpriced apartments. It’s a Belfast where dodgy deals are done in boutique hotel rooms with a view. ‘Daft place to build a city if you ask me,’ shrugs Patrick, gazing at the neon sprawl. ‘City in a swamp.’

The property executive is up to his neck in it. His blustering, red-faced father-in-law, Ben (Gordon Fulton), is one seizure away from a stroke, while his wife, Gemma (Maria Connolly), is – in the words of teenage daughter Orla (Samantha Heaney) – ‘a bitch’. And when Patrick’s penchant for rough, paid-for sex is exposed – along with hints at Ben’s financial irregularities – it threatens to destroy the family’s well-to-do existence.

Directed by Michael Duke, the play turns the concept of good and bad on its head. ‘I’ve done bad things, but I’m not a bad person,’ pleads Patrick. He’s a fascinating type: anxious, deceitful and weak, yet strangely sympathetic.

The other main characters – eastern European prostitute Maria and her handler, Bull – are just as engaging. Maria, played by Cristina Catalina, is a guileless Moldovan whose dream of being a singer has degenerated into the nightmare of sex slavery. Michael Liebmann’s sleazy pimp, meanwhile, is This Other City’s most clearly defined villain, blackmailing and bullshitting his way through the piece.

Refreshingly for a drama about Northern Ireland, the Troubles are mentioned only briefly, when Bull likens Maria’s obstinacy to a terrorist protest. ‘Hunger strike is it?’ he asks. ‘You’ll be dabbing the walls with your own shite next.’ The audience stifles a groan in anticipation of more references to the conflict, but Carville seems to agree we’ve had enough of bombs and bullets, and the scene moves swiftly on.

Elsewhere, some of the language isn’t entirely convincing. I’m not sure if upwardly mobile Ulster folk would use words like ‘shitstorm’ in everyday conversation .

That aside, This Other City is a startling production. Special mention should go to set and lighting designer Niall Rea, who has transformed the Baby Grand at Belfast’s Grand Opera House into an intimate, ambient arena for Carville’s middle-class meltdown.

This Other City is set to tour theatre across Northern Ireland. Check out Culture Live! events listings for more information.

Andrew Johnston

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