Monday, 18 February 2013

Mixed Marriage at the Lyric Theatre

Ok, so I'll admit it, I wasn't convinced at all that this show was the right thing to be shown in Belfast at this time.  I thought it was just too close to the current situation in Belfast.  We have moved on I told myself.  Why would this play be shown now?  Where is the progression in Northern Ireland if this play still resonates 100 years on?

While we all think we have moved on and we chuckle at flag protesters and laugh in wonder at those politicians' views that seem completely at odds with our own, this play did have resonance with the audience in the auditorium tonight. From the rioters at the door, the police being overrun by violent mobs, guns on the streets and families being destroyed by the problems inherent in mixed marriages, it's all too real.

Marty Maguire's character Mr Rainey still exists today.  I know many people who think like him, and given what has happened over the past couple of months, I think everyone has become aware that his views are still prevalent.  I was disappointed though that the audience was never really given any indication why he thought the way he did. It meant that this character came across as unreasonable rather than having a valid opinion. The perception of Orangeism as being anti-Catholic is still the case today, even though it is not necessarily true. Despite the stereotypical bigoted character, Marty's restrained performance was refreshing.  His aggression and hard views bubbled under the surface until his mistrust pushed him over the edge of reason.

I loved Mrs Rainey and I thought that Katie Tumelty was outstanding in the role.  Her strength of character and 'live and let live' views really helped to show that despite her husband and her background, she was willing to move forward.  I enjoyed the moments of gentleness between Mr and Mrs Rainey, and thought that they really served to accent her ability to accept people for what they were.  She was, for me, where the optimism is in the play. She was the character who would enable Ireland to move forward.  I thought that the change from the original script made at the end of the play in relation to this character was misplaced.

Karen Hassan as Nora is great, particularly towards the end of the play as she wrestles with her feelings of guilt.  Her assertion that she will marry who she wants, no matter what the cost, is quickly rendered unimportant when she realises her part in what happens.  Her chemistry with Brian Markey is clear and added a perfect note of passion to the proceedings.

Brian Markey, is a talented young actor but I felt that his performance was missing some integrity.  I never quite believed his character and doubted that Hugh would have the strength to stand up to his father. His relationship with Nora was lovely though and the chemistry between the lovers was palpable. Their passionate embrace ensured that the audience was left in no doubt that this play was going to end in tears.

Gerard Jordan is strong as Mickey O'Hara. His deep understanding of the character's place in the play is obvious.  O'Hara keeps the play within its historical context of the Dock Strike.  Gerard is always believable as the brave man on the street working to bring the Dockers together, no matter what their religion. While O'Hara may not agree wholeheartedly with mixed marriage, he is willing to forgo his personal opinions for the good of Ireland.    

I have seen Darren Franklin in a few things now and I find him a very versatile young actor.  His character of the younger brother Tom highlights how Hugh was treated by his father when he was younger.  He isn't given a lot to do, but his development through the play from boy to man was excellent.  I thought that Darren established a real connection with his character - his internal terror while making his brave stand against his father was clear on his face.

All the characters have differing opinions on religion and mixed marriage.  Nora and Hugh are willing to look ahead, to make a new future for themselves without their families if they have to. They put their love for each other above their religion.  Despite his traditionalist views, Mr Rainey tentatively attempts to move forward but his mistrust of the 'other side' will never go away.  His clear love for his wife is shown in small private moments, but when push comes to shove, his opinion that he is right will always be more important.  His belief in a 'Popish plot' is shown in a dream sequence which I thought worked really well to show just how ingrained his paranoia is.

Mixed Marriage goes to show how vulnerable our so called peace is in Northern Ireland.  While people have different degrees of friendship with the 'other side', our peace is volatile and it does not take much for peoples' mistrust to return.  I think the flaw in the production is the change at the end, which removed the optimism and led the play to a different conclusion than the writer intended. That said, this is a production worth seeing.  With a stellar cast of actors, and lovely directorial touches, there was a lot I liked about this play.

Mixed Marriage is on until 23rd February at the Lyric Theatre.  You can book online here.

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