BWW Review: CYPRUS AVENUE, Peacock Theatre, Feb 2016

Inside a psychiatrist's office, a sullen man hangs his head. "Everything is acceptable," reminds his psychiatrist (Wunmi Mosaku), "everything is allowed." No words have better tempted the Northern Irish playwright David Ireland, whose dark comedies often interrogate the legacies of The Troubles. His new play, co-produced by the Abbey Theatre and London's Royal Court, strategically sets up and topples several taboos - wincing comments about race, homosexuality, women - as if the only way to understand cause for offence is to be offended.

Eric's (Stephen Rea) explanation is less scientific: "I did grow up in Belfast."

A "Fenian"-damning loyalist, Eric is suffering from an identity crisis brought about by an outlandish belief that his five-week-old granddaughter is in fact the person he reviles most: the Republican politician Gerry Adams. After ruling out reasonable doubt with miniature glasses and a magic marker, he's cast out by his wife (Julia Dearden) but his conclusion remains the same. With the help of a UVF member (a tenacious Chris Corrigan), he considers extreme measures against his granddaughter.

That might sound suspiciously spoofy but it's mightily grounded by Rea. Hands perpetually in his pockets, his body shuffling in rhythm to his speech, the actor sensitively spells out something elegiac: the decline of a political order. Amy Molloy, playing Eric's daughter, gets to cast those reminders harder than anyone: "You're fighting old battles that nobody cares about any more."

Less clear is the state of Eric's retelling, which thanks to Lizzie Clachan's neat set flexibly journeys between past and present, an office and a home. Hints that the reminiscence is warped by delusion, however, aren't really embraced by director Vicky Featherstone. The staging might have gone further than the straitening scope of realism to convey that psychosis.

The foundations of Ulster Loyalism may be shakier than ever but in Ireland's play that doesn't come without its sympathies. A forlorn passage frames Ulster as a type of Zion, a utopian ideal slipping steadily from reality. Tragic is that collapse, and the horror of a reality built less on an individual's values and more on the rejection of others'.

Cyprus Avenue runs until Mar 19th, and tours to The Royal Court Theatre, London in April. Photo: Ros Kavanagh,

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From This Author Chris McCormack

Chris McCormack is a theatre critic based in Dublin. He blogs on and writes for A Younger Theatre, Irish Theatre Magazine and the Arts (read more...)