Thursday, 20 January 2022

REVIEW: The 4th Country at Park Theatre

Any story told against the backdrop of Northern Ireland has an in-built drama; as the region lives with the past and ludicrous understatement known as The Troubles, it also deals with the present fallout replete with its social, economic and political consequences. This play written by Kate Reid comes direct from a successful run at the Vault Festival in 2020. The Plain Heroines Theatre Company specialise in funny plays about difficult subjects and has certainly hit the mark here. Playing upstairs at the always sleek and inviting Park Theatre, it has an intimate space perfectly suited to the subject matter.

The story begins within the confines of Stormont as Shona (Aoife Kennan) a stressed civil servant in the Department for Health begins another long day. The power vacuum in Northern Ireland has left them in charge of fighting various fires. Melanie (Kate Reid) is already in the office, eager to start her internship. A baptism of fire lies in wait as calls become increasingly frantic and Melanie is confronted with a familiar face from her native Derry. The bad stuff is about to hit the fan when Conor (Cormac Elliott) bursts in. He slips out of character and begs them to explore the back story. His sister Niamh (Rachael Rooney) emerges from the wings and supports his argument. The cast agrees and duly skip back five months as their characters are fleshed out.

The 4th Country uses the flashback tool to drive the narrative and create a genuinely compelling piece that pulls no punches. Breaking the conventional sequence can be risky on stage as there are fewer props to aid the transition between scenes. Actors squabbling about the plot can also be distracting. But it all works wonderfully well as a coherent message clearly emerges. The four-strong cast dash across a small performance area as they place carefully positioned props. A bare scaffold frame has a multitude of uses as a simple sign turns it into a supermarket aisle or bus stop. Changing jackets keeps tabs on the characters and specific points in the story. Four convincing Ulster accents become two as standard English takes over; and provide further proof of an excellent cast. History clings to Ulster as a chilling legacy haunts the lives of each character. This play raises many questions but few are easy to answer. Does history truly teach us anything; do we inherit pain and anger when it slips from living memory? It gives the viewer much to think about, not least a highly literate and thought-provoking play.

Review by Brian Penn

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: Unallocated seating | Price of Ticket: £12/£15

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