No Surrender | Theatre Review
Eastside Arts Festival • Thursday 03 August ’17
By Conor O’Neill
“Sir Edward Carson has a cat. It sits upon the fender, And every time a mouse it gets. It shouts out ‘No Surrender!’” And so I’m welcomed to unfamiliar society and geography. Two-For-One’s latest release, based on Robert Harbinson’s memoir No Surrender, starts off will a war cry and ends, well, you’ll see. East Belfast son Sam McCready takes the Strand Arts Centre’s stage with a bounce that’ll leave you stunned.
A lone chair sits centre stage, only to be used when poignancy or slower moments are to be created. For the rest of the time ‘Rabby’ struts, sings and dances his way almost every inch of the stage. For those unfamiliar with the tale, it’s hard to put the memoir of a youngster growing up in the depression of the 1930s with a magpie eye, sticky hands to match, Fly the red setter, the hated but not feared ‘Mickys’, an injured swan fed on soda bread and more to mention into a succinct little paragraph.
Directed by wife Joan, Sam McCready will have creaking hips and aching jaws and lips this morning. Chatting with a local woman at the interval, she said she’d seen McCready walking up the very same road earlier in the week waving his arms about mouthing unheard words. Who needs a rehearsal space when you’ve got the road where you were born on and not by coincidence, the very area of our main character’s childhood.
To say Harbinson led a colourful life is somewhat of an understatement. To trace that back to his childhood is to understand. Delivered fast into a rough area with rough mannerisms and into even tougher times the memoir tells of a world strange to us fussed over kids of modernity. Not that Rabby wasn’t adored; that would remove the love of his mother ‘Big Ita’ and the joyous moments he spent playing skipping in the alleyways of the East with his daddy before his death when Rabby was only six-years-old. Languishing for months after falling from his windy-cleaner’s ladder up the Malone, we have thunderstorms and six candles marking our protagonist’s birthday as his father was laid to rest.
We meet the ‘Spanish galleon in full bloom’ that is the Tit Queen with triple chins and triple stomachs to match, the Bog-Meadow gypsies Mick and Sophie who’ll “Cut a slice of yer arse and fry it for breakfast in the morning”, Lisburn Road misers who reject the Parish Orphans request for a penny, the Plymouth Brethren with their emersion baptisms, including the much anticipated and hilarious Christening of Big Ruby by a John the Baptist stand-in.
“Sir Edward Carson has a cat.…” and we’re into the second half of our hour and 20 minutes. Gable walls stating ‘Ulster is right and Ulster will fight’ leads to the glorious 12th of July. As a Taig from Lisburn I’m unsure of the proper words of the Sash, we used to end it with ‘Round his arse, round his arse’. Tonight up the Holywood Road I sang it for the love of it. Not something I plan to repeat I must add, I was simply caught up in the moment. Most of the audience were too.
Away from the sectarianism and grime of the city we’re exposed to Harbinson’s love of nature. The descriptive narrative of watching oyster-catchers sweep over the blustering expanse of Lough Neah, ducks: the male black and tufted, the female brown and without plume, catching eels, the freedom of seeing a woman waltz, the sight of an unknown strip bare and dive into the depths of the water, the freedom from Puritan aunts. McCready’s voice changes, Chamberlain’s speech, the world at war; a return to Lough Neah’s shores; Eoin gone? ‘Ulster is right, Ulster will fight’ but maybe not as hard as a youngster born into poverty but reborn rich with realisation. The Strand holds 180, tonight there was 107. If word of mouth is anything to go by you’ll have to book early to see Friday’s show. No Surrender runs from 03 – 04 August. For booking details visit www.strandartscentre.com or phone the box office on 02890 655830