East Belfast Boy | Review

East Belfast Boy | Review

The MAC, Belfast • As part of EdgeFest

By Peter Moor

East Belfast Boy is just one part of the EdgeFest trilogy at The MAC, offering a painful insight into men’s mental health, a topic so often ignored and kept hidden. East Belfast Boy tells the story of 20-year-old Davy, placing him in highly contrasting settings: a hospital, a party, a job centre. In each scene, we see Davy with differing levels of awareness, his body pumped with drugs and alcohol. One minute Davy is slurring, the next seemingly unconscious, the next an entranced routine of pulverising movement. 

The soundtrack to the play provides a constant beat – a form of heartbeat keeping Davy alive, even through the deepest and darkest scenes. This beat is joined with gun fire and explosions in a scene where Davy plays Call of Duty. These sounds are punctuated by heavy strobe lighting creating a highly multi-sensory piece of theatre, stimulating to the eyes and ears.

The audience becomes more involved as the play, and Davy’s life progresses. Quick buzzes to ask someone for the time, someone for a selfie, someone for a word he can’t remember. The most powerful, however, is Davy asking the audience to imagine their school. The metropolitan theatregoer provides a prim and proper image of a place with neat desks – a clear contrast to Davy’s chaotic school life.

Here we see a clear divide between Davy’s narcotic life and the theatregoer. The honesty of this performance truly permeates across to the audience throughout. Despite who Davy is, we, as an audience, continue to warm to him throughout the play. We become attuned to his accent, perfectly in key with his character’s East Belfast roots.

Such a performance, filled with contrast due to it dark humorous tones, is worthy of high praise. Ryan McParland makes a highly energetic and vigorous performance look almost effortless. For over an hour, McParland is the centre of attention with his character constantly glaring into the audience – there is no break from the audience voyeuring on every moment of Davy’s turmoil.

Praise cannot solely be given to McParland, even if he is the only person seen on stage in the one-man show. The direction of Emma Jordan creates a masterpiece of theatre, along with the work of a design team, choreographers and sound designs who breathe life into Davy’s chaotic world.

Fintan Brady, as the writer, not only creates Davy as a character, but voices him with street sharp poetry, slurred in its rhythm. This three-dimensional character, with his alcohol and drug-induced life is no doubt down to the process Partisan Productions used to shape Davy’s complex narrative. Through collaboration with young men from the Newtownards and Beersbridge Roads of East Belfast, Davy almost embodies numerous personas of the affected young men throughout these disenfranchised areas of East Belfast.

Often a complaint of theatre, and the arts more generally, is their failure to represent the minorities in the community: the unemployed, the disenfranchised, those with mental health. The power of Brady’s collaboratively worked narrative, however, allows for a character to be realised who truly reflects these communities, whose story is so often untold by the arts.

This piece of theatre manages to get you, as an audience, to somehow relate to Davy, even when your experiences are very unlikely to compare to the character on the stage. This is theatre at its most powerful – theatre with an ability to transport you to a seemingly alien world – yet it is only a few miles from The MAC’s Cathedral Quarter home.

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