Review: Marching on Embers

PERFECT TIMING: Chris O'Connor's new play Marching on Embers.
PERFECT TIMING: Chris O'Connor's new play Marching on Embers.
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What immediately strikes home about Leeds-based Buglight Theatre’s latest production is that it is perfectly timed, entirely contemporary. Writer Chris O’Connor’s new play evokes a time, place and life that relates to ours, and which makes our sympathy entirely possible.

We are in modern-day Northern Ireland. Sinead has been studying in Leeds, and comes home to finish off her university thesis. Her brother Sean is trying to make an honest living, but finding even the most menial work is hard, while their mother Florrie is a compassionate carer in a nursing home. Florrie was widowed when her Republican husband was killed in “The Troubles”. Cathal is a mate to Sean, an ex-lover of Sinead, and a friend to Florrie, but his passion for a united Ireland has flared up after the Brexit referendum, and is fuelled by what he believes will be a disastrous new pact between today’s politicians. He may aspire to a Utopian society, but it is one that will be achieved through violence.

The evening is sincere, compact, and thought-provoking, it has a theatrical charge and vitality which is admirable, but the final ten minutes are too neat, and too much of a cliché. Victim goes off to do a noble deed and… well, the result is predictably catastrophic. There are emotions here that are both cruel and tender, but one feels that they deserve a less abrupt conclusion.

O’Connor delivers his punches, and has an admirable ear for dialogue, but, instead of a second, and rather truncated final act, he should have been more bold, and had the courage to slightly expand it.

Our cast (Maggie Hayes, Barrie Calver, Christine Clare and Richard Galloway) are crisp and convincing, each popping off expletives like repeat-action air pistols. O’Connor has definitely got an ear for the honest, crude vernacular. Ruth Carney directs perfectly. There is so much to admire here, and the play proves that some of the very best drama happens outside London.

Tours until October 7. Venues include Harrogate Theatre, The Square Chapel in Halifax, Bradford Playhouse and the Lantern Theatre in Sheffield. Details