We’ll Walk Hand In Hand | Review
By Conor O’Neill
Bob Dylan’s ‘The Times They Are A Changing’ plays softly as a nearing a full house of the Lyric Theatre’s Danske Bank stage sits before us as we take our seats. Apt considering what’s on show here tonight.
The set is a bunch of cubes: doors, windows and huge and small blocks. Purples, oranges, and blues make up the main colour of the palette. A set like none I’ve ever seen before. A kind of Rothko 3-D installation if he’d ventured beyond his obsession with reds and blacks. Set designer David Craig has created a space to let us travel over 50 years, through the struggles of Northern Ireland’s road to peace. A Somalian hamburger/kebab shop, where nothing is Somalian: “All the ingredients are from Lidl’; the murder of Martin Luther King sends its ripples around the world; only coupled by the news of: ‘Who’d have thought Davy Jones would leave the Monkees?’; a society: ‘Where even Einstein couldn’t get a job on a building site’; the brutality of the B-Specials; the infamous ‘welcoming party’ at Burntollet Bridge, all this in a neat one hour 50-minute show.
We’re promised at the start that it’s a history of the world, then told: ‘Well, a short history of the Civil Rights Movement of Northern Ireland’. Celebrating 50 years of our modern civil rights movement, this year Green Shoot Productions in association Queen’s University, Belfast City Council, the Arts Council and too many others to mention have delivered a history of our own peace process and the convoluted relationships that all entailed, but also a picture of a new Northern Ireland: refugees, how 50-plus years have seen so much change as the world becomes smaller, new estrangements and insecurities still divide, and yet this is a story of hope and acceptance.
Anyone who has seen a Green Shoot Production before will understand there’s always a political slant. Some of which I’ve reviewed and left the theatre scratching my head simply because I was not aware of the politics or history behind the story. This one, however, has all the makings of a Green Shoot show, but with a little of that GBL mass appeal to it. Of course, you’ll probably need to know a little about how Martin Luther King’s assassination in April of 1968 led to the birth of NI’s own civil rights movement. King had the Black Panthers’ militancy to deal with, our own peaceful bunch had the birth of the modern PIRA to handle.
There’re so many scenes to laugh about here. The ‘swearing in, oath of allegiance’ scene with the OC demanding to be addressed as OC will have you in tears, Lynch is pun-tastic. One-liners are of course in abundance: “Acting? Don’t tell me you’re turning into a fruit now?” Newly recruited Ra man: “OC, the guerrilla movement must move through the community like a fish through the sea.” And perhaps my favourite of many: “Shankill, Woodvale, what’s 500 yards between friends?”
But laughs aside, some scenes are harrowing. The Battle of Burntollet Bridge scares and amazes in equal measure. The strobe lighting is used to great effect. Your eyes see a character, the strobes kick in and time freezes, the synapses simply cannot keep up with the action. More movement, more strobes, fewer characters, more violence: spellbinding, terrifying and shocking theatre.
As for the plot: hold on to your hats and don’t blink or whisper for a second. The main cast includes Conor Grimes, Emer McDaid, John Travers, Maria Connolly, Noel McGee, Michael Lavery and Susie Kelly. To address their collective CVs would turn this simple review into a thesis. All but McGee and Kelly play multiple roles, spanning three generation and at times looking down at themselves 50 years in the future. Sworn atheists turn to Altar-rail-sucking Catholics, others turn to Evangelical Bible Bashers demonstrating outside Family Planning clinics, while the super talented Emer McDaid plays her own granddaughter.
The ensemble are to be equally admired with Maruyama Yuusuf as Mike’s mother and Warsame Mohamed playing an excellent, weed chuffing refugee and wanna-be maker of said Lidl kebabs. The joy of Tony Catney’s quips as ChipShop gives the ever comic Grimes a run for his money. Very rarely will you see such an ethnically diverse cast.
And that perhaps is the beauty of this work. From American niggers – Lynch’s term, not mine– being compared to Northern Irish Catholics of the 1960s, the fact 20,000 attend Belfast’s annual LGBT Pride March each year, and Somalis and other immigrants trying to find their own world in a country where even the executive can’t agree on meetings about meetings.
We’ll Walk Hand In Hand runs at the Lyric until 31 March before going on a short tour from 10– 14 of April. To book tickets visit www.lyrictheatre.co.uk or phone the box office on: 02890 381081. For tour dates email firstname.lastname@example.org