My English Tongue, My Irish Heart: Review

My English Tongue, My Irish Heart: Review

Waterfront Studio, Belfast, 05 May  2015

WELL, what a strange set up. The stage sits betwixt and between the audience, and thankfully it’s a full theatre. Greenshoot Productions with support from Manchester University brings us ‘My English Tongue, My Irish Heart’ a play about the Irish diaspora. Greenshoot is Martin Lynch’s non-profit venture, where he can experiment and play with ideas without having to worry about generating revenue, and with this we can find him at his best – remember 2013’s ‘Meeting at Menin Gate’?

With opening night, Martin was there… watching him was like watching a man getting his hand crushed as his wife screams and breaks his knuckles delivering the first born. He did chuckle twice or thrice. I chuckled a lot more, well, I suppose he did write it and knew when the jokes were coming. Typically, Lynch has dark humour wryly splintering the play; add to that his love of music and we have a grand piece of theatre.

The plot centres round a Mayo Catholic, Gary, and his Tyrone born Protestant wife, Susan. An odd couple for sure who find themselves living in England. Yep, they speak the lingo but life’s not all Foxy bingo on the other side of the Irish Sea. Intertwined are several plots featuring other Irish immigrants from the last few centuries. With a six strong cast we venture the world, but the eye is always thrown back on Ireland. You can take the boy out of Ireland… The plot should be simple, but with the centre stage and jumps from the 1700s to 2015 I found it hard to follow at times.

Gorgeous traditional ballads of the old sod including more modern hits by The Pogues and Saw Doctors encourage the audience to reflect upon their heritage. Anyone who has fled Ireland, North or South, will understand the notion of this play. Wanting to leave but missing this rain-soaked country is the real essence of this piece of theatre.

Lynch is clever enough to bring characters from all walks of life – pickpockets, draftsmen, daft men, lawyers and plenty more beside add body to the simple message of this play. But, and there’s always a ‘but’, I don’t think the centre staging of this production quite works. Maybe if the audience was elevated above the actors we would have more of a sense of being involved. The decision to have the crowd lower than the cast makes it feel like a poetry reading with the reader always twisting and turning away from the audience. I missed some of the dialogue, and this was frustrating. Maybe this is test week. With the play running in Ireland, London and Manchester some venues may be better suited to this style of theatre. Unfortunately the Waterfront staging didn’t match an achingly good script, a fine cast and a thoughtful tale of Irish emigrants confronted with losing their identity.

Would I recommend this play to friends? Of course, forgetting its shortfalls it is a good play, which I’m sure will brings smiles to thousands on both sides of the water.

Conor O’Neill

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