No Surrender | Review
Lyric Theatre, Belfast • Runs until Saturday, 15 April
By Conor O’Neill
After last year’s success at East Belfast’s Strand Theatre and with the adaptation of Robert Harbinson’s memoir No Surrender now tightly bound in book form, it seems natural that Sam and Joan McCready would want to throw the net wider and reach a different audience; to do that they’ve returned to arguably their spiritual home, Belfast’s Lyric Theatre. Both he and Joan cut their theatrical teeth in the old building way back in the 60s under the ever watchful eye of the late, great Mary O’Malley.
Joan, welcomes us and adds: “please, please, please can I ask you to ensure all noise making equipment is turned off?” And with that, the lights dim and her husband of 56 years walk on.
A mahogany table with a glass of water sits centre stage, beside it a weathered, old black chair. No other props or fancy gimmicks are required. No soundtrack. Quality theatre done simply is the ethos of Two-for-One’ Productions. “Lord Edward Carson had a cat, it sat upon the fender, and every time it caught a mouse, it shouted, No Surrender!” McCready, with a glint in his eyes instructs us to follow his lead: “It’s not multiple choice.” And so a packed house follows him as he repeats the verse. Last year, in the East, everyone knew the words, the blood stirred and each syllable recited with pride and passion. Here in the leafy suburbs, maybe ‘good manners’ or fear of such shows of Protestantism, or a more diverse crowd leaves the audience’s rendition a little limp by comparison.
This seems to simply drive McCready on and for the next 39 minutes we’re brought on a journey. Harbinson, or Bryans, as he was known before entering polite society, tells us of the mean streets, the Mickeys, the dirt, the unemployment. Despite such circumstances, Harbinson’s wit splits through TB, snubs from the rich as church orphans beg for a penny, the Tit Queen and the constant cloud that was his father’s untimely death. Moving from the first person narration to act out the multiple characters, McCready lives the words as if they were his own. A phone rings, un-noticed, or so it would seem, we’re drawn in as the youngster recounts tales of orchard robberies, uppity aunts, his mother’s three-mile walks from ill-paying job to ill-paying job.
The joys of the wild bog meadows, memories of his father and his beloved red setter, Fly, chasing sticks. Fears pumped into impressionable minds, nuns stealing babies, the hatred of Popery and how Catholics didn’t read the bible. Death is never far away. Love letters are not replied to: “Girls seemed to die quicker than boys.” Doreen Smith, gone. Another phone rings. Daggers thrown from the eyes, quickly regaining momentum tales of the Mission Halls, Billy Nesbitt’s nocturnal habits and Hot Ruby’s baptism brings smiles from ear to ear.
The interval: “Ladies and gentlemen, may I respectfully ask again that all noise-making devices are turned off?” This time the request is dutifully respected. “Ulster will fight and Ulster will be right.” The glorious 12th of July, Donegal Avenue a riot of red, white and blue, The Sash is sung, the audience are warming to McCready, or maybe becoming more relaxed within themselves. The Field, the wonderful Field, penny-orphans given a sixpence as long as they are ‘Pradestants’. Always looking for acceptance and with an ill reputation cemented in both neighbourhood and psyche, Robbie joins Ghandi’s troops. Ghandi accepts, ‘The Queen’s shilling’ and we get to the graveyard scene; the thought of a youngster clawing at the earth trying to get to his father’s body, sobering.
The ocean calls and the above image soon replaced by a mauling of the tonsils, a rendition of ‘Down Mexico Way’ and a lodger’s vomit cast back by an evil wind lifts the mood. Redemption comes in the form of a chance trip to the country with Mrs. McClelland and a trip in her Baby Austin to Lough Neagh. McCready’s ability to move with such ease from character to character, emotion to emotion will surely win you over. I heard there was a group from the markets who were stunned by the ending. Such a fitting play to run during the 20th anniversary week of the Good Friday agreement!
To find out more visit www.lyrictheatre.co.uk or phone the box office on 02890 381081
No Surrender runs until Saturday, 15 April.
The run is sold out but the Lyric’s website announced more seats are to be put into the Naughton Studio for the remainder of the run, those of you on the waiting list keep your fingers crossed and hope for a phone call. The site also advises ringing daily as some tickets may come available due to cancellations.
The book No Surrender by Sam McCready, adapted from the autobiography of Robert Harbinson is available from No Alibis bookshop.