My expectations were high for this joint Abbey Theatre/Royal Court production starring Stephen Rea, last seen in Ballyturk at the NT. Rea is one of my favourite actors, versatile and strangely ageless; he turns 70 in October I trust him not to put his name to anything poor.
There is no doubt that David Ireland’s Cyprus Avenue is my play of 2016-so far! Its intimacy (a small in the round production directed by Vicky Featherstone) increases that tension that would be nothing in a larger theatre but not only do feel like witnesses to Miller’s behaviour but also complicit in not stopping him. It humours and unsettles equally. as we descend into madness with Rea’s Eric Miller, an Ulster man who convinced himself that his new born granddaughter is Gerry Adams. Rea is rarely off stage and what could be a basic portrayal of an elderly, dour Belfast man becomes a story of identity, particularly identity in a divided country like Northern Ireland, race, gender and (lack of) acceptance by some of the older generation.
The strongest scene for me is Rea’s monologue about his trip to London, his confusion at the English embracing Irish identity over their Britishness-(with particular contempt for O’Neills pubs and English descendants of the Irish, as it mainly becomes it becomes clear that his fear is the unknown. He doesn’t know the Catholics and he has lived in this bubble in the belief that any knowledge of anything else will destroy all he has known. That isn’t to say Rea can’t interact with his co-stars and his scenes with Slim (Chris Corrigan) and Bridget, his therapist (Wunmi Mosaku) reveal the depth of insecurity as they desperately try to understand him and his reasoning but I felt his wife Bernie (Julia Derden) and daughter (Amy Molloy) were underwritten and didn’t delve as deeply into Eric’s apparent hatred of women (yet another group he didn’t understand) as much the production could have done.
Royal Court until 7 May.