So An Englishman Walks Into An Irish Bar, Kingsgate Theatre - Review

Good Friday 2016: Kate (Catriona McFeeley) runs a bar in the town of Ballyditch, Ireland. Her on/off boyfriend Joe (Michael Kiersey) wants to take her away for a weekend to Galway. However, this Easter weekend is doubly auspicious: the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising and Kate knows that the bar which doesn't away have many customers, will do good business over the next four days. While Grace (Bláithín McCormick) and Roddy (Rory Murray) discuss the sensitive subject of the Easter Rising, a man walks into the bar during one particular heated exchange, and has a few things to say of his own...

While the events of a hundred years ago give context to the play, they are not solely what Englishman is all about, nor is it all deadly serious. As a black comedy, there are faux pas aplenty as initial manners give way to indiscreet comment and later not-so subtle remarks.

Grace, a politicised young woman who is very clued up on history (via the Discovery Channel), and an ardent supporter of those who took part in the Rising, wears her emotions on her sleeve and sees most things in absolutist terms. In contrast, Joe is relatively apolitical - the centenary registering on his brain when reminded, but  with no strong feelings either way. As for Roddy he takes a more measured view of the centenary events and even though it isn't explicitly stated, I sensed that as the oldest character in the play, he would have have first hand recollections of the Troubles, and know the 'unromanticised' truth of those times.

While Grace has strong feeling about the British presence in Northern Ireland, she does show that she's capable of seeing past partisan lines amd admits she really respects Queen Victoria for being a woman leading the last 'great' empire, especially doing so in the 19th century when women's rights were non-exisitent.

Kate's own journey in the play is much more personal, as she has to contend with being pregnant. However at this point in her life, it doesn't feel right to raise a child, so the only other option is to travel to Britain and have a termination there. Only trouble is she doesn't have enough money to hand and time is of the essence...

While Grace waxes lyrical about the people who made the Irish Free State possible, the reality for Kate is that as a relatively young woman, she still has no more ownership over the choices for her body as Irish women 100 years ago. And Roddy, sensitive to her situation and acutely aware he has been languishing like Kate in this nondescript town, tells her if she goes to not come back. It's the only way her life will move forward...

Justin Murray who directed the play, knows how to accentuate the humour as well as the pathos in RG Mackenzie's script. As for Mackenzie himself who was commissioned to write this script for the Rep season, he has shown an aptitude for writing plays beyond his 22 years of age.

Englishman is very funny for much of the play, so when the final events take place, they are all the more shocking. However they do show the the absurdity of violence as a rational solution and the cost it has to one's well-being.

© Michael Davis 2016

So An Englishman Walks Into An Irish Bar, runs at The Kingsgate Theatre (at Kingsgate Community Centre, Kilburn) until April 9th 2016.


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