Double Cross – Peacock Theatre (Abbey) – Review
Abbey Theatre and Lyric Theatre, Belfast Production
It sounds a little unlikely that two of the most prominent figures in terms of propaganda for both the English and the Germans during the second world war should be Irish, but strangely it is true! Lord Haw-Haw is the name given to Irish-American William Joyce. He was involved with broadcasting Nazi propaganda to Britain from Germany during the war. On the other side of the coin was Brendan Bracken, who was the minister for information during the war, and a close friend and confidant of Winston Churchill.
This is a play by Thomas Kilroy that explores the lives of these two men during the war and after. The play was first performed in 1986 by the Field Day Theatre Company. This revival is a joint production between the Abbey and the Lyric theatre, and was first performed in Belfast in October of this year.
The play focuses on the personal lives of the two men. The first half of the play is about Bracken. He is a man riddled with self-doubt and paranoia, desperate to hide the facts of his early life. He left Ireland at an early age and became more British than the British themselves, in accent and manner. He moved his way through the higher echelons of English society and was eventually elected to the House of Commons in 1929 for the London constituency of North Paddington. The play gives you an impression of the man behind the mask and we see a troubled soul, desperate to be accepted and to hide his origins.
The second half of the play focuses on William Joyce, who is a very different character. While he was born in America, he grew up in Salthill, Galway. He worked as a courier for the British Army intelligence during the Irish war of Independence. He eventually joined the British Union of Fascists (BUF) under Sir Oswald Mosley in 1932 and found his way to Germany in 1939 where he started his famous broadcasts. The play shows him as a bright and erudite man who suffers from depression and is kept on an even keel by his wife Margaret. They had a difficult relationship that sometimes erupted into violence but they couldn’t live without one another.
One unusual feature of this play is that Brendan Bracken and William Joyce are both played by one man; Ian Toner. Similarly, Charlotte McCurry plays the roles of both wives, Margaret and Popsie, along with a number of other female characters. This decision allows us to see the two men as opposite sides of the same coin, so we can compare and contrast them. They are two deeply flawed characters but despite or because of this, they are both fascinating. Toner creates two entirely different characters on stage. There is even a moment where he transforms from one to the other, changing in posture and presence before your eyes. Charlotte McCurry does very well with the complex character of Margaret but only has a minor role as Bracken’s wife Popsie.
The staging is inventive with use of projections onto screens that are pushed around the stage. This allows the two characters of Joyce and Bracken to interact, or to show the inner demons that are troubling both of them. It is surprising that the play takes such an interest in their personal lives, when their careers during the war were so fascinating. The strongest point of the play is definitely the performances of the two lead actors, and the subtle shades and comparisons drawn between these two very different men.
Lord Castlerosse/ Lord Beaverbrook (Max Aitnen) / Fire Warden, Enrich and all other male roles: Sean Kearns
Margaret / Popsie / Journalist and all other female roles: Charlotte McCurry
Brendan Bracken / William Joyce: Ian Toner
Writer: Thomas Kilroy
Director: Jimmy Fay
Set Design: Ciaran Bagnall
Costume Design: Gillian Lennox
Lighting Design: Paul Keogan
Sound Design: Chris Warner
Video Design: Neil O’Driscoll