Three’s A Shroud | Review
Waterfront, Belfast • Runs until 21 October ’17
By Conor O’Neill
A pair of tapered monoliths stands, situated either side of the stage. To the audience’s left, there’s a desk and opposing chairs, worn from years of use and old-school business. On the other side a fancier, modern number, a nifty swivel chair and a stylish see-through perplex seat for the grief-stricken. To the rear, two medical counters, with an assortment of chemicals and instruments. Not, you understand, to be used for saving lives, but for purging the odour of death and dressing up the rigour mortise struck clientele before they either go up in a puff of smoke or get lowered into the turf to feed worms and push up daisies. Set designer Chris Hunter has gone for the ‘less is more’ approach, and it serves this purpose perfectly.
“They bury theirs and we bury ours,” has been the undertakers’ maxim in our wee nation for centuries. But times have changed. Protestant funeral directors, Gray’s, under the tutelage of sharp-suited and youthful, Basil, has upped the ante, branched out and is targeting the Catholic demised. Catholic competitor Gerry McSorely is at odds on how to respond. Thankfully his recently appointed apprentice, Simon, son of McSorely’s lover Margaret, has his finger on the pulse of modern technology and has hair-brained scheme after scheme to resurrect McSorely’s falling numbers of putting the dead six foot under. Pity he has a fear of cadavers.
Gerry’s a man of tradition and has little knowledge of ‘Facetube’. Were Basil’s approach to grooming the recently deceased’s facial hair and nether regions is the use of an electric trimmer, Gerry still believes in the old cut-throat razor. Unfortunately, Simon’s razor skills are at best a little nick that can be covered with makeup. At worst? Well, take The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and multiply it by a baker’s dozen. But hey, he’s only planning to work at the funeral game a short while, as his alter ego rap-star-in-the-making, Diddy S D’s, long-awaited debut EP Straight Outta Poleglass is bound to make him a fortune before he hopefully goes down in a hail of bullets like his heros Biggie and 2 Pac.
Directed by GBL’s Martin Lynch, expectations are high as all 332 seats of the Waterfront’s smaller and more intimate theatre fill up. So why did Lynch get involved with a relatively unknown writer? Large is the creator and sole contributor to a Facebook page called Dundonald Liberation Army. On visiting the page you’ll find tons of whimsical yet politically engaging satire. Large is the author of A Dog DLA Afternoon (Three Wannabe freedom Fighters. Two Hostages. One Food Bank. And No Way Out). The title alone would grab anyone’s interest. His first offering to the stage was last years’ Carol’s Christmas, produced by Brassneck Theatre Company. On the back of DLA’s 29,000-plus followers and Large’s obvious talent for comedy Martin Lynch approached Large with the idea of turning DLA into the theatre. When that didn’t work out Lynch gave Large a challenge to write a play and Three’s A Shroud is the result.
Trying to get even with the vain, widow-humping playboy that is Basil Gray, Gerry advertises in the News Letter and Belfast Tele to try and grab some from the other side. The first one doesn’t go to plan as the requested send-off UVF anthem Here Lies a Soldier gets mixed up with another song with the word ‘soldier’ in its title. While battling it out Gray and McSorely find another competitor is taking money out of their pockets by getting rid of corpses at half the price. Enter Polish entrepreneur Irena Bukowski. Irena will bury anything that doesn’t move: Protestants; Catholics; feminists – Gerry, “a feminist funeral, sure who’s gonna make the sandwiches?” – Hindus; Sikhs; Muslims; vegans; humanists; pagans; atheists; agnostics… basically the whole plethora of humans that make up society.
With a common enemy, McSorely and Gray hatch and carry out all sorts of nefarious ways to put Bukowski under. CakeKnife aka McSorely’s foul-mouthed cleaner Mrs Johnston is crucial to operation Cupcake, but the Pole is not one to take such deception lying down. Belfast City Morgue’s Jason has the hots for Irena, a weakness she uses to her advantage. Two big funerals are to happen on the same day. Provo Liam Duffy and UVF legend Davy ‘the Venezuelan’ Taylor meet grizzly ends and Irena’s trick has all three holed up waiting for either Blowtorch Thompson or Hatchet Haggerty come a knocking. The pizza scene is fantastic; just one of too many to mention. Horn-ball Heaney, stuttering Spike the UVF’s ‘community donations collector’, Gusty Stitt, Wheelchair Dennis and many more characters add to the rich tapestry of this refreshing piece of theatre.
The cast superb: BJ Hogg, of Give My Head Peace fame, is steadfast and purposely unknowingly funny at every turn, he’s the lynchpin and constant holding the mayhem together, almost. Nuala McGowan’s role as Irena, along with Mrs Mary Johnston, her portrayal of many a grieving widow is top notch, as is her Polish accent. Shaun Blaney’s Basil Gray and his multiple scenes of acting out nearly every gangster movie worth watching could be a play in and of itself. Whole swathes of the Godfather, Good Fellas, Scar Face and Reservoir Dogs are aired word perfect and without flaw. Finally, and kept to the last is probably my favourite of the night; Matthew McElhinney’s Simon brings if not a roar of laughter but at least a grin every time he opens his mouth. His innocence, stupidity and street smarts show him as the consummate comic actor.
Martin Lynch in association with GBL and writer Stephen G Large, cast and crew will brighten up your night and leave your jaw aching the next day. Both sides get the piss ripped out of them. The ending is unexpected and unifying. Two standing ovations were not enough. To book your tickets visit www.waterfront.co.uk or phone 02890 334455 Three’s A Shroud runs until Sat 21 October.