Eric is convinced: His newborn granddaughter is Gerry Adams, the Irish Republican politician. Eric is haunted by the trauma of living through the Troubles, when Northern Ireland was rocked by bombings and conflict between the Catholic Irish Republicans and the Protestant British Loyalists that left thousands of civilians dead between the 1960s and 1990s.
Loyalist Eric (Stephan Rea) will not suffer Catholics, and certainly not Gerry Adams himself disguised as a newborn, in his house. Unaware of his psychosis, he hires a hit-man to take out his granddaughter, willing to do anything it takes to defeat the “fenians.” David Ireland’s 90-minute drama Cyprus Avenue explores what it means to be Northern Irish after a history of extremely partisan politics and having an identity that contradicts itself. Can one be both British and Irish? Is there a difference? Does it matter? Eric’s identity is shattered when he realizes he might, in fact, be Irish.
Directed by Vicky Featherstone and told through a mixture of flashbacks and therapy sessions with psychologist Bridget (Ronke Adékoluejo), Cyprus Avenue at the Royal Court Theatre pulls no punches in its discussion of trauma. The shocking use of graphic onstage violence against family and children should be noted before viewing, as it is extremely disturbing.
Rea is stunning as Eric. He creates a captivating character who, despite committing atrocious actions, is still compelling. His brilliantly layered performance brings to life a man who hasn’t realized he has lost his mind, as his psychosis escalates to acts of violence against his family. However, his performance has moments of plateaued intensity where he yells for long periods of time without fluctuation, causing significant loss of momentum. However, his softer moments bring out the broken humanity in Eric, which evokes pity in the audience.
Amy Molloy, as Eric’s daughter Julie, has lovely chemistry with Rea. Molloy plays the “modern woman” in contradiction to her father, a man stuck in the past. She desperately wants to love him but he pushes back at every opportunity, ostracizing himself from her and his wife, Bernie (Andrea Irvine). Chris Corrigan, hit-man Slim, has great comedic timing as he unleashes rapid-fire wit with Eric as they discuss assassination as if they were dinner plans. Adékoluejo as Eric’s psychologist, Bridget, brings a pragmatic aspect to the story. She challenges his convictions and pulls the story out of him. She is almost a narrator despite Eric being the storyteller.
Cyprus Avenue’s set, designed by Lizzie Clachan, helps create a stunning final image. The all-white clinical therapist’s office is destroyed. The stark white carpet is drenched in pools of blood. Bodies lay on the floor for so long they become set pieces themselves. As the reality of what he has done seeps into Eric, so too does blood seep into the carpet. The horror is elevated by the haunting shadow-filled lighting of designer Paul Keogan and the foreboding sound design of David McSeveney.
With the entire cast’s impeccable acting, Featherstone’s simplistic but effective directing, and the emotive technical designs, Cyprus Avenue is a powerhouse piece that lingers in the mind. If you can stomach the violence, this play is strongly recommended.
Viewed online Oct. 27, 2020 courtesy of Royal Court Theatre, London UK.
Reviewed by Emmalynn Mallay in the theatre criticism class of Patrick Langston
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.