Cyprus Avenue

Oct 11 2018 | By More

★★★★☆     Brutal

Bedlam Theatre: Wed 10 – Sat 13 Oct 2018
Review by Thom Dibdin

Brutal to a point which is almost beyond comprehension, the EUTC production of Cyprus Avenue, at the Bedlam to Saturday, fools with laughter before stunning you to silence.

Set in post-troubles Belfast, David Ireland’s 2016 play is about the healing process that the Northern Ireland loyalist community is going through – whether those who lived through the past can reconcile themselves with the potential futures available.

Cyprus Avenue by David Ireland Bedlam Theatre October 2018 Anna Philips and Peter Morrison. Pic Erica Belton

Anna Philips and Peter Morrison. Pic Erica Belton

Anyone who saw Ireland’s fast-paced, hard hitting Ulster American at the Traverse during the fringe, will be unsurprised to learn that while he plays hard and fast with the absurd, he never shies away from poking around in the old wounds to see where the puss still seeps through.

At the centre of all this is Eric, who has lived through the troubles and whose family – his heritage as he thinks of it – is staunchly protestant and loyal to England. He’s found sitting in the old arm chair in his front room. He’s been there an age – even before the audience arrived – much to the disapproval of his bustling, busy wife Bernie.

That armchair is the faded, out-of-focus part of Natasha Moody’s two area, open set. On the other side, sharply illuminated, is psychologist Bridget’s crisp and tidy office. And when Eric finally manages to get to it, she begins the intricate task of helping him unpick the tangle of his obviously troubled mind.

What on earth was going on when he first looked into the face of his five week old granddaughter, only to see the smiling eyes of Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams looking back at him. And how did he feel about that?

towering presence

Peter Morrison is a towering presence in all of this. He grabs the opportunity to give Eric a strong physicality before he has even uttered a word. Without recourse to ageing makeup – or the dreaded hair whitening – he creates a care-worn character, now trudging through the remains of his life.

Cyprus Avenue by David Ireland Bedlam Theatre October 2018 Peter Morrison, Aine Higgins and Francesca Sellors. Pic Erica Belton

Peter Morrison, Aine Higgins and Francesca Sellors. Pic Erica Belton

Anna Phillips brings great clarity to Bridget. Her questions are sharp and her demeanour unflappable even as she offers Eric the opportunity to open up, and gives him the right to say what he likes, without repercussions. As she does, Morrison’s superb sense of Eric’s inner violence makes this is edge of the seat stuff.

The comfy chair is, it would seem, the place of Eric’s memories. And as he slips back into them, revealing how he came to imagine the face of Gerry Adams – and what came after – so their physical placing on the stage changes.

It’s beautifully directed by William Byam Shaw, with Phillips looking clear-eyed directly into the audience as if she were still interrogating him. It’s a transfixing gaze, yet Morrison’s shambling presence, now in his comfy chair, still demands the attention until she is lost from the narrative entirely.

In that memory live Eric’s wife Bernie and daughter Julie. Francesca Sellors gives Bernie a bird-like persistence, as if she existed purely in his peripheral vision.


Áine Higgins has more substance to play with as Julie, expressing her faith in his bigoted world view but calling into the light her own experience of working alongside catholics.

Cyprus Avenue by David Ireland Bedlam Theatre October 2018 Peter Morrison, Jacob Baird. Pic Erica Belton

Peter Morrison and Jacob Baird. Pic Erica Belton

It is a key role, as it frames Eric’s attitudes. Higgins carries it very well indeed, creating an idea of contemporary Northern Irish beliefs. She and her catholic colleagues might have mutual antipathy in common, but they also share an ambivalence towards the truths of the past in their hopes for the future.

Ireland has a brilliant understanding of the power of language and uses it to explosive effect right at the off. It’s a tricky moment, attracting the first of several trigger warnings given to audience members before the play in place of a programme, and director Shaw works it well.

Indeed, Shaw’s sense of pace and understanding of structure are excellent, as he guides Morrison through big, long, wordy perorations that encompass all the overblown pomposity associated with dogma – of all persuasions.

a notch too far

And when Jacob Baird’s balaclava-wearing, pistol toting, new terrorist jumps him, Shaw ratchets up both the absurd comedy and the sense of ultra-violence an extra notch.

It is perhaps a notch too far, however. As the ensuing scenes need a different kind of subtlety to make them the climactic event they should be. Somehow, they are now a surprising banal and lengthy plateaux of emotion, for an audience which is now unsurprised by anything which might happen.

Such criticisms of the dramatic sweep of the production are small beer, however, and this ends on a note which is as chilling as anything which has gone before.

What is important here is the way that both the play and this production highlight a different understanding of contemporary Ulster in week when the Arlene Foster has started tightening her squeeze on the May Government.

This is both a strong critique of bigotry, wherever it appears, and a timely reminder of the nature of the DUP’s core beliefs and provenance of their moral support.

Running time 1 hour 45 minutes (no interval)
Bedlam Theatre, 11 Bristo Place,, EH1 1EZ
Wednesday 10 – Saturday 13 October 2018
Daily at 7.30 pm.

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