Writers: Alice Malseed and Niall Rea
Director: Niall Rea
In the ten years since TheatreofplucK started producing queer theatre in Northern Ireland its reputation for challenging, cutting edge, multi-media performance has grown and flourished. It has now acquired its own premises in the heart of the Cathedral Quarter. The Barracks is a cute little upstairs studio space, greatly in demand for rehearsals, readings and workshops, as well as full productions.
Two years ago, as its contribution to Outburst, the company premiered Shannon Yee’s Trouble, an intriguing, provocative piece, which moved the audience in semi-darkness around a large gauze cube onto whose sides were projected video images and inside which live witness accounts confessed to shadowy, sexually suppressed existences during the years of conflict.
In my review for the Irish Times on 18 November 2015 I observed that it was no picnic being gay in Northern Ireland but that it was better than it used to be. In terms of equality, there was still some way to go, however, as this was the only region in these islands where same sex marriage did not exist and where a majority vote in the Assembly could be overturned by a benign sounding Petition of Concern.
Fast forward to November 2017. Same sex marriage has become a political football, but remains an aspiration rather than a reality. The younger generation’s focus has moved from the past to a future, where anything should be possible … but is not. Fury, frustration and resentment pour in torrents from Alice Malseed and Niall Rea’s co-written script, delivered at high volume in competition with a brilliantly resonant rock and rave soundtrack. The audience perch on narrow benches, like voyeurs in close proximity to a row of squalid toilets, where four angry young men and women harbour deep-set fears and fantasies.
Confident and assertive, Malseed’s performance is pivotal to the piece. As 17 year-old Rose, she is the puller of strings, the keeper of secrets, the conduit of dark, subversive thoughts. In no uncertain terms, she voices her anger at the sight of her ex-boyfriend and ex-girlfriend, hand in hand at the school formal. Ripping off her pretty blue net prom dress, she bares body and soul in a nude coloured silk slip, her expressive face taking on radiant light and surly shadows in response to her expletive-laden diatribe. Out of the cubicles emerge three more young people, each of them eager to rise to the challenge of Rose’s urgings.
As the son of a police officer, shy, hesitant Warren (Warren McCook) has not a clue about coming out but lives in hope that the rumour mill may do the job for him. When he is approached by the tall, shimmering, auburn haired vision of Cathan McRoberts, a dangerous, sexually compliant figure, he finds himself taken to unimagined new heights on another planet of experience. In turn, McRoberts’s uber-cool character is actually concealing another, far less assertive persona. Then there is diminutive Holly (Holly Hannaway), sparky, androgynous, articulate and desperate to be allowed to step into the gender in which she feels most comfortable.
One by one, they explode into ever riskier, more violent, damaging and crazed visions of their chosen futures, returning eventually to the bland, polite, superficial reality of the present day in a spirit of ironic, knowing parody.