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Theatre Review: Cyprus Avenue

DENNIS POOLE recommends a bleak black comedy on deranged sectarianism in Ireland

Cyprus Avenue
Royal Court Theatre, London

LIVING in Cyprus Avenue, East Belfast, Eric regards himself as British. Protestant to the core, he  enthusiastically joins in the Orange marches every August. What he is not is Irish or anti-Catholic or anti-racist.

But, a loyal son of Ulster, he is determinedly anti-fenian. And, in David Ireland’s play, he is psychologically off his trolley.

Introduced to his newly born granddaughter, he convinces himself that his family has been infiltrated by the forces of darkness — his granddaughter is indeed none less than the devil incarnate Gerry Adams himself.

Thus begins the descent of Eric (Stephen Rea) into spiralling madness. Banished from the family home, he finds himself on a park bench where he engages in a rambling monologue reflecting on a trip to London 10 years previously where, in an Irish bar, he is invited to celebrate his Irish roots and join in the “craic.”

Befriended by a “fat and repulsive” Camden Irishman, he is seduced into a rare old time in celebration of Irish culture, reeling drunkenly through London streets singing rebel songs. Waking next morning full of remorse and regret, he never drank again.

As this reminiscence concludes, Eric finds himself confronted by Slim (Chris Corrigan), a gun-wielding UVF man who threatens to shoot him. His diatribe had been overheard by a young boy, causing trauma and confusion about his own Irish identity.

The mother of the boy demands reparation in the form of Eric’s murder and the latter persuades Slim that a more appropriate target for revenge would be Gerry Adams in the form of Mary-May, his new granddaughter. And, with absurdist gruesomeness, the play concludes back in Cyprus Avenue.

This bleak black comedy has a tour-de-force performance from Stephen Rea, who takes takes centre stage for the whole of the action and the scene in which Eric is confronted by Slim provides genuinely sublime absurdist comic interaction.

The two male characters get most of the action, all of the choice lines and thus most of the plaudits. But they’re well supported by Ronke Adekoluejo as Eric’s clinical psychologist Bridget, Andrea Irvine as his wife Bernie and Amy Molloy as the daughter Julie.

Runs until March 23, box office: royalcourttheatre.com

 

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