We’re nearly at the end of the run for Cyprus Avenue, but given what an outstanding night at the theater this was – a blazing bargain at £20 – I didn’t want to fail to take the chance to draw my readers’ attention to David Ireland’s excellent play. It is a play firmly set in now, in the current situation we live in, and it takes full advantage of the benefits of playwriting – to be able to respond to life now without a two year drag to get produced, filmed, and distributed – to make theater that reflects a mirror back at society and says, “This is the world and these are the people that are in it, even if you haven’t noticed them before.” And I hadn’t. What do I know of what it is like to live in Northern Ireland today? What do I know about what it is like to have spent your entire life growing up with an “us” and a “them” who lived side by side and killed each other, and had been for years? What does it mean to be a person who defines themselves as British but when they open there mouths would be labeled by any person (nearly) living in London as Irish? And to reject the label of Irish?
This is the world of Cyprus Avenue, a complete mess of squished up past, present and future, with labels that may or may not have any meaning to me but which are as potent to the participants as a Confederate flag in the United States. Smack in the middle of this seething pit of unsettled change is Eric Miller (Stephen Rea), a British Protestant who can’t see what the future of Northern Ireland is supposed to look like no matter how clearly his daughter Julie (Amy Molloy) does. In fact, he’s been buried in looking for Fenians for so long that he thinks his baby granddaughter looks like Gerry Adams. And while this seems very funny … and the whole play is comic right up until the last twenty minutes or so … Eric’s belief is, in fact, a golden bell ringing ring a ding ding saying, “This man has actually plunged over the edge.”
As a play about madness, Cyprus Avenue was wholly satisfying, only really exceeded by 4:48 Psychosis. But the side of madness that this play showed was just how damned logically satisfying it is when you’re on the inside of the brain that’s gone bad. Eric is totally sensible; he’s even able to convince other people that he’s on the right track. But it’s the conclusions he draws about what his delusions “force” him to do, as a defender of the Republic, that show how clearly mad he really is. And watching this all happen – the story of his poor collapsing brain turning into a pile of rubble as sure as the Sands Casino – is absolutely a fantastic night of theater, the ending made all the more powerful by the glad-handing comedy of most of the show. Once again, the Royal Court has proven to me that for theater that really matters, just climb up those four flights of stairs to the Red Door.
(This review is for a performance that took place on April 27, 2016. It continues until May 7th. It is worth standing for two hours in line to see. Trust me.)