Here Comes The Night – Lyric Theatre – Review by Cathy Brown
The new play by Rosemary Jenkinson
Directed by Jimmy Fay
Until May 14
Rosemary Jenkinson’s incisive and highly enjoyable new play Here Comes the Night is set in one house in East Belfast and reflects on the similarities and differences in Belfast in 1966 at the start of the Troubles and the city again fifty years later in 2016.
In the first half, it is 1966. Vincent and Mary Gallagher live in East Belfast. Mary (Kerri Quinn) is about to give birth to their first baby and wishes Vincent (Michael Condron) would get a job. Work shy Vincent would prefer to focus on his writing but the republican tone of his work, inspired by the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising, is becoming noticed in the local Protestant community. Mary’s sister Jenny (Susan Davey) lives with the couple and her more liberal 1960s attitude has caught the attention of Freddie the Postman (Thomas Finnegan), a friend of the family despite their religious differences. As the laughter, dancing and banter of the four gives way to an ominous sense of foreboding, the cracks start to appear and the reality of life in Belfast in 1966 comes right to the Gallagher’s door.
It’s back to the future in the second half, where 50 years later in 2016, Jim and his Polish wife Marta have just moved in to the Gallagher’s old home. The house is being redecorated, but while walls are being knocked down inside, Jenkinson cleverly explores how age-old attitudes are harder to paper over in the wider community. Boyd McClean (Niall Cusack) from the Ulster Historical Society wants to put a blue plaque outside the house to commemorate Vincent Gallagher’s work but Jim and Marta just want to keep their heads down. A Polish business has just been burnt out and Marta’s nervousness reminds us that no matter how far we come, there is always the need to have an ‘other’ to focus anger on.
Boyd is backed in his cause by Culture Minister Donna Ni Duineachair, who is hijacking Gallagher for her own political ends. Donna, as played by Kerri Quinn, will be instantly recognisable to local audiences, and while the characterisation may be a touch on the nose, it only serves to remind us how ripe for parody the situation in Northern Ireland still is.
The championing of Gallagher’s slight body of work is the starting point for a clever questioning of how remembrance and commemoration can be politicised and how as a society, we may have moved on, but we still may not have moved on enough. As Freddie the Postman succinctly says, ‘around here, the past always comes back to bite you on the arse’.
Jenkinson uses the dual time frame to set up subtle hints and echoes between the eras. In 1966, Mary is having a baby because that’s what you do. In 2016, Marta calls the shots, telling Jim they have to wait for five years. The respect for the priesthood in the past is cleverly lampooned in an off-colour, off stage remark in the second half that generated one of the biggest laughs of the night. The anticipation of a baby girl in 1966 is only finally realised in 2016 thanks to the rise of the LGBT movement.
The cast of 5 play their double roles admirably. Michael Condron as Vincent and Jim uses his great comic timing with skill, while Kerri Quinn clearly enjoys herself as the domineering Culture Minister. Susan Davey excels in the second half as the conflicted but sensitive Marta and Niall Cusack brought the house down with his portrayal of the officious Boyd McClean. Special mention though must go to Thomas Finnegan as both Freddie and Dean, whose natural charisma lit up the stage whenever he appeared.
Punctuated with a fantastically evocative soundtrack and directed with skill and assuredness by Jimmy Fay, Here Comes the Night is a humorous, insightful and timely meditation on conflict resolution in a city that has changed beyond recognition in the last 50 years but still has a long way to go. It is a pleasure to see Rosemary Jenkinson’s work produced on the main stage of the Lyric Theatre as her work raises interesting questions about identity and society in contemporary Northern Ireland.