A pair of recent Derry-Londonderry productions set their sights on real history and reel history respectively
If you told me that the theatrical landscape in the still very recent City Of Culture felt a little bit barren nowadays, I'd say you wouldn't be far wrong. The city's theatre goers were frankly spoiled for choice in the years leading up to and the closing months of 2013, if not slightly beyond that. Back then, it was not uncommon to take theatrical spectaculars for granted, considering the apparent richness of the cultural landscape in the North West.
But while the money may no longer be available, at least not to the same extent, the area continues to thrive artistically, with talent both established and burgeoning keen to exhibit their skills on and off stage. Nowhere is this more visible than in a pair of recent plays performed inside and outside the city's walls. One sets its sights on real history; the other has fun with reel history.
The set design in Carlo Gebler's Walking To The Ark, directed by Kieran Griffiths, is symbolic of both history and the present day, the bumpy wooden path which separates a stately living room and a prison cell metaphorically representing the rocky travails between the bottom and top rungs of society. This is the gap between those in comfort outside the walls and those entrapped within them during the Siege Of Derry in 1689, Gebler's source of information and inspiration for the script.
Walking To The Ark's historical background revolves around the story of Williamite Colonel Thomas Whitney (Peter Hudson), his mistress Martha Darcy (Tara Breathnach) and their imprisoned, illegitimate son, the Jacobite Captain Nicholas Darcy (Dermott Hickson), giving additional resonance to a thoughtful, edgy and verbose play. The narrative, non-linear, torturous but tightly-paced, is guided humanely by Griffiths to a powerful conclusion.
Gebler's vocabulary and Griffiths' direction are ideal for Tara Breathnach, who utterly excels as Martha. At first, she is an excitable, nonsensical, even flirty mess, but Breathnach compellingly unveils the enslaved and frustrated soul within, mastering the character and capturing our attention. When she tears a Bible to shreds and hides the pages away, reflecting absorption of all guilt and regret, it is the epitome of the role and her performance, spectacularly mirroring Martha's fury and despair. Even when Peter Hudson's Thomas undresses her, she gives no quarter, her vulnerability only exposing itself once her son's situation is unveiled before our eyes.
The heart of the production lies in and emerges from the general confines of Nicholas Darcy's prison cell, watched over by Pat Lynch's creepily amusing Turnkey. While Nicholas's frustrations mirror Martha's, Turnkey, as the middle man between authority and prisoner, gradually develops from stereotypically wisecracking to the voice of reason he initially purports himself to be. The roles and positions of the colonel and captain change, Martha's agony intensifies, and Turnkey's wisdom grows, in a society that literally and fundamentally hangs by a red thread of clothing. Once again, it's metaphorical, of the ever-thinning bloodline that strains to connect a mother, father and son searching for both family and liberty. And you can't help but hope that this particular thread strengthens rather than snaps.
Blood - of the fake kind, thankfully - is everywhere to be found when the North West Regional College travel back in time to take on Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs. The difference between film and play is simple, yet effective; newcomers have the chance of enjoying the 1991 classic, generally adapted word-for-word, from a more youthful angle and intimate point-of-view. Like Walking To The Ark, you need not be familiar with the source material or the inspiration to fully appreciate it.
The NWRC theatre is converted into a direct replica of the film's abandoned warehouse hideout. A table & chairs, live band and pre-recorded film & audio are also used as every single one of the film's iconic scenes are brought to life, if not necessarily in the order and manner you may expect.
For here, every single one of the coded gangsters are played by women. Amy McLaughlin, Jessica Shaw, Kristian Logan, Andrea Nic Eimeid and Clare Sweeney step into the shoes of Blue, Brown, Blonde, White and Pink respectively alongside Oisin McCool's Joe Cabot and Ryan McGlinchey's Nice Guy Eddie, while Mary Crossan & Niamh Gaffney do double duty as the partly all-action, partly heavily wounded Orange.
The solid directorial hands and heads of Liam Craig & Michael Poole point the young cast in the right direction, Sweeney, Nic Eimeid and Logan especially impressing. On the whole, Tarantino's ability to indelibly, excitably merge everyday nothings with potentially stomach-turning violence is efficiently and effectively embodied. Needless to say, these Reservoir Dogs have plenty of bite.