Both Sides of the Story
Two very different takes on the post-Troubles of two very different individuals
Ransom Theatre Company continues its mission to produce exciting and inventive new writing for the Northern Irish stage with Both Sides of the Story, two one-act plays. ‘Yes So I Said Yes’ from current Playwright-in-Residence at Belfast’s Lyric Theatre, David Ireland, and ‘Static’ by revered Cork writer, Robert Anthony Welch.
Ireland and Welch were asked to consider post-ceasefire Northern Ireland, looking at what happens when political transformation affects cultural life. In choosing these particular writers, Artistic Associate at Ransom, Rachel O’Riordan, essentially commissioned two very different pieces of work.
At the directing helm is the hugely experienced Mick Gordon, whose theatrical CV boasts a spell as Associate Director at the Royal National Theatre in London under Sir Trevor Nunn. It is obvious from the get go that Gordon’s direction matches the writers’ scripts in passion, innovation and panache.
‘Yes So I Said Yes’ is up first. Opening with a hilarious Austin Powers-type dance number, Ireland quickly declares his intentions to take the audience down an unexpected (and what turns out to be quite a murkily subversive) path. The cartoonish set suits the often boisterous action, which follows the story of Alan ‘Snuffy’ Black, played by JD Kelleher, and his ‘relationship’ with next door’s dog.
Encountering hilarious characters along the way, including his doctor, the dog’s owner, Mr McCorrick, a BBC receptionist, a security guard (the latter played by Conor MacNeill in a scene-stealing turn), loyalist paramilitaries and a psychiatrist, Snuffy’s story turns out to be an uproarious and delightfully excruciating watch.
Peppered with references to ‘Norn Iron’ – the Stephen Nolan Show on Radio Ulster, knee-capping and spides – and full of colloquialisms that would no doubt go over the heads of non-locals, the sharp script and physical comedy has the audience laughing out loud throughout.
The play steers clear of becoming too bogged down in purely Northern Irish speak, however, and allusions to modern international culture are frequent, which helps keep things frisky. The hectic pace and hysterical dialogue often make it seem more light-hearted than it is, and Ireland manages to slip in serious points, even when they are delivered in a facetious manner: 'It’s a lot harder to kill people when there’s a peace process on.'
Without giving too much away, there are sections of the play that are quite shocking, and the musical Jerry Springer-style denouement is graphically disturbing, but brilliantly and hilariously so.
After the interval, the same group of six actors evolve into a different set of characters for Welch’s ‘Static’. The scene opens with Roy Heayberd, playing Denis McShane, lying in a hospital bed, hooked up to a heart monitor, IV drip and self-administered morphine injection device.
It’s an immediately depressing tableau and it takes the audience a while to settle into this new tone. It also takes some time to work out exactly what’s going on, and who is who. Whereas Ireland’s characters are over-the-top caricatures, Welch chooses to develop his parts more subtly.
The story focuses on the dying McShane and the world he lives in – horse-breeding – with visitors to his hospital bedside gradually unveiling the action happening elsewhere, that of an unknown rival ‘Ford’ who is slowly but surely stealing McShane’s livelihood.
The references to Northern Ireland start to creep in more in the second part of the play, as we become more aware of McShane’s dubious past. The writing leads up to the reveal when Gerard Jordan, playing McShane’s right-hand man, delivers a spine-chilling speech.
With excellent support by all the cast, but particularly Charlotte McCurry as the disturbed Claire, this serious play more obviously confronts the after-effects of The Troubles and looks at the individual’s scars. There are moments of laughter, which stop it becoming too maudlin, and whilst initially it seems to jar juxtaposed against Ireland’s fast-paced anarchy, on reflection they are perfectly pitched companion pieces.