Fire Below (A War of Words) – Abbey (Peacock) Theatre – Review by Frank L.
Until November 18th
Written by Owen McCafferty
This is a companion piece to McCafferty’s hugely successful and award winning play Quietly (2012). It is set in the present almost twenty years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement and in particular on the eve of the twelfth of July. Tom (Ruairi Conaghan) is sitting, in his garden on a capacious deck at his Belfast home, which has fine views looking out across the city. Immediately below is a newly built estate. Even though it was in the course of construction at the time of the Good Friday Agreement, it is a Protestant estate. He watches the final touches being made to the tribal bonfire as if it was some foreign anthropological ritual of little concern to him. He is joined by his wife, Rosemary (Cara Kelly).They are waiting for their Protestant neighbours Gerry (Frankie McCafferty) and Maggie (Ali White) to join them. They are late. When they arrive Gerry and Rosemary greet each other “as Gaeilge” which Gerry has started to learn. He likes to practise with Rosemary who is fluent. The four of them have suitably middle class conversations about the provenance of the wine they are drinking, its cost, possible alterations to their respective homes, gardens and similar domestic topics. The wine flows and the tongues loosen. Their recently acquired generosity of spirit flags. Long held biases and prejudices begin to assert themselves. They enter an old familiar, thought-to-be- forgotten, ungenerous space.
McCafferty once again has written a sharply honed text which is vibrant throughout. Each of his four characters are three dimensional and entirely credible. If you were scoring the text, as if it were a boxing match, Tom and Rosemary have, on points, the better lines. But all four characters contribute to the social complexities that are alive and well, notwithstanding the Good Friday Agreement. Paula McCafferty’s set of the deck combined with the sultry evening add to the sense of an illusory, comfortable, middle-class ease. The direction of Jimmy Fay also contributed to the sense of social precariousness as an alcohol-encouraged pastiche of an Orange parade subtly indicated. His direction permitted the major change of mood to take place as if it were an inevitable car crash.
As Fire Below describes the here and now it was always going to be tricky for McCafferty to conclude the piece. The current machinations of the politicians in the real word only magnify that difficulty. Given those circumstancces, an enigmatic ending might serve Fire Below better. That reservation aside this is a play well worth seeing.
Tom: Ruairi Conaghan
Rosemary: Cara Kelly
Gerry: Frankie McCafferty
Maggie: Ali White
Writer: Owen McCafferty
Director: Jimmy Fay
Assistant Director: Emily Foran
Set Design: Paula McCafferty
Costume Design: Una Hickey
Music & Sound Design: Conor Mitchell
Lighting Design: Sinéad McKenna
Production Manager: Cliff Barragry
Stage Manager: Anne Kyle