A (expletive-deleted) great show...


Last night  my wife and I went to the f*****g Lyric Theatre, and it wasn't to see Pride and Prejudice the f*****g Musical on the main stage, but something much more f*****g earthy in the Naughton Studio space: Re-Energize by Gary f*****g Mitchell, directed by my mate Conall f*****g Morrison with music by John and Damian O'Neill from the f*****g Undertones. It picks up the story of the members of a f*****g wannabe punk band 30 years after Mitchell's earlier play "Energy" was set.

I didn't see that production back in 1999 in the Playhouse in Derry, where this production also originated. But the previous year I first came across Gary Mitchell's work in another collaboration with Conall Morrison when I took a night out from Methodist Conference to take a ministerial colleague to see their play "As the Beast Sleeps" in the bowels of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin... The play was still in a fluid state at that time and one of the discussions between Gary, Conall, myself and my colleague was the relentless use of the word f**k throughout the play. If truth be told I think the writer and director were both more worried about other people's sensitivities than either me or my colleague, because in his liberal use of Anglo-Saxon Mitchell was capturing the lingua franca of his home area of Rathcoole. And if you can manage to hear more than profanity you will find in this play the authentic voice of contemporary post-working class Ulster protestantism. Mitchell has a wonderful ear for dialogue. There were parts of the play where I thought that he had been secretly recording conversations between me and my younger brother or me and my teenage son, minus the swearing of course ... So much so that I had tears of laughter running down my cheeks at one point...

Yet the laughter belied the tragedy that was unfolding in front of us... A story of hopelessness, debt, the threat and reality of violence, depression, alcoholism, broken families, social division (socio-economic rather than religious)... But the black humour, and the music cut through the darkness of the story to genuinely leave me up-lifted and indeed re-energized leaving the theatre.

As well as a brilliant ear for dialogue, Mitchell also has a superb understanding of loyalist society and a sense of the social ills within it - an understanding that sadly led to him being intimidated out of Rathcoole, once his writing started to get TV exposure... However, there is often a absence of a dramatic flow in his work... A lack of a climax, or ultimate denouement... This was true in last night's show and may be deliberate... offering a snapshot of the ongoing nature of existence in loyalist communities, the ups, downs and crises that occur, without anything ultimately ever changing... I recognised far too many of the scenarios played out on the Naughton stage last night... Scenarios played out with conviction and energy by the whole cast, who were a good solid ensemble both in terms of their acting and as a garage-punk band...

Everything culminated in a defiant, high octane performance of the title tracks of the original play "Energy" and the new show "Re-Energize". Circumstances were not going to crush the dreams of these characters...

In the real world, rebellion against the social circumstances that loyalist communities find themselves in has more frequently expressed in flag protests and rioting recently... That's not to justify the latter, but it is a factor in it all the same...

Is there a romanticism in the refusal of these middle-aged punk rockers to give up on their dreams, no-matter how unrealistic those dreams might be?

Yes. It is, but it is a romanticism rooted in rough and ready reality... pregnant with hope... Offering everyone the possibility of a second chance...

But you've only got two more chances to see it at the Lyric, so if you can get tickets for tonight or tomorrow, grab them with both hands...

Cheers



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