Three’s A Shroud | Theatre Review
Waterfront Hall, Belfast • Runs until Saturday 6 October.
Words Conor O’Neill
He’s been in the Belly Tele, on local telly and as his star continues to rise after constant work with BBC Ulster. Dundonald man, Stephen G Large, along with his 30k plus devoted followers of Facebook page ‘Dundonald Liberation Army’, seems to have the whole country in their crosshairs.
Tonight was press night. Not my favourite type of night to be honest; everyone there is on a freebie, most are either fellow professionals in the world of Northern Irish theatre or hacks like myself tasked with giving out opinions, and you know what they say about those.
But try telling the full house at Armagh’s Market Place theatre the night before, all honest put-your-money-where-mouth-is paying customers; they’d no reason to stand in ovation for Three’s A Shroud’s return to our stages other than the simple fact they loved it.
Furthermore, try telling the cast it was press night? All four of them acted like their lives depended on it. And possibly, if stuttering Spike is based on a real life figure occupying the shadows of Large’s life, they really were.
Thankfully the cast has remained intact, so too has the plot. If it’s not broken, why fix it? Of course, there are a few little additions and slight changes. Trump and Brexit are obviously too big a collective target not to take pot-shots at. But apart from that and maybe a gag or two refined, everything is business as usual.
To the uninitiated here’s a quick relaya of the storyline. McSorely and Gray are two undertakers in an unspecified part of Belfast. One buries theirs, the other sends their own on the final journey. No harm done, everything ticks along nicely. But Basil Gray has unwillingly inherited the family business and with alimony, child maintenance and a hooker, keep that mind out of the gutter, to pay for, slick Basil has thrown his net wider and is advertising in the Irish News. BJ Hogg’s (Give My Head Peace) Gerry Mc Sorely is not going to take this lying down and so in keeping with our country’s love for tit-for-tat responds by taking out ads in the Belfast Telegraph and Newsletter. All par for the course so far. But with Europe’s doors flung open a competitor emerges. Namely Polish born, Irena Bukowski.
The Pole sees no colour, no religious divide and buries and cremates all casts and creeds with little emotion, pure professionalism and at half the price. The two now have a common enemy and what time or reason cannot heal, money, as always, brings together.
Along with the seniority of Hogg, three other relatively young actors fill the many colourful characters that crams the 90 minutes of fun. Shaun Blaney again returns as sharp suited Basil Gray. Mathew McElhinney plays McSorely’s unwanted sidekick Simon – aka Diddy S D – while Nuala McGowan returns as Irena Bukowski. All are deeply embedded and necessary to the plot.
But as is often the case it’s the little side characters that often cut the deepest. Hogg’s community collections officer, Spike is a joy to behold as he sweats menace as much as he stumbles to pronounce the words to his many memories of the ‘good old days’. Speaking of Gray the senior he reminisces: “He was an Orangeman, a Blackman, an Apprentice Boy, f*&k, if the Brownies had sung songs about burning Fenians, he’d have joined them too.”
McGowan perhaps has the biggest number of side characters, be it Mrs Johnston and her rampaging hormones, Reverend Lovejoy, Sharon Campbell, all who are presented to her on the script work well and delivered perfectly. McElhinney’s Belfast City Morgue Assistant Jason is sure to give anyone the creeps as his advances toward Irena warrant a place on umpteen registers, but I hadn’t noticed on first viewing the talents of Blaney. Yes, his Basil with his love of mafia films is brilliant but he’s beyond that. The marvellous scene of local hero Gusty Stitt’s ‘Celebration of Life’ is one triumph. Another fleeting character is the drunk fella with the pizza; probably the best case of someone sober playing the plastered since Richard E Grant’s Withnail.
Back to the plot: Gerry unnerves Simon with his knowledge of the Hitler/Stalin pact and so Gray and McSorely are united in sabotage. But three can play at that game. Irena has a plot too. When Provo Liam Duffy and Loyalist Davy ‘The Venezuelan’ Taylor meet grizzly ends the Pole has a trump card, or rather, Jason up her sleeve.
This is not your regular linear play. Nor is it a sequence of two minute sketches thumped together. It’s an amalgamation of the two genres that somehow works and arguably has gotten better than its original run. Directed by Martin Lynch and with his craft honed by work in TV, radio and other media, Large’s talent promises to be around for a long time to come.
Three’s A Shroud runs until 6 October at Waterfront Hall. To book your tickets phone the box office on 02890 334455 or visit www.waterfront.co.uk