Lion & Unicorn Theatre, London
Green Curtain Theatre and Martin McNamara’s latest work, as part of the London Irish Fringe Festival 2018, is a timely look at the Battle of Cable Street from the viewpoint of an East London-based Irish family, divided by generations, nationality, and political beliefs.
Jim McEnroe (Mickey Mason) and his brother Dessie (Michael Black) are taking two very different paths. Jim embraces his local Communist party and grows close to a local Jewish woman, Ruth Cohen (Lisa Lynn). Dessie is drawn to fellow Anglo-Irish man Oswald Mosley, who also happens to be a fascist intent on creating anti-semitic conflict amongst the community. In the middle stands their parents Maureen (Fiona Cuskelly) and Liam (Aonghus Weber), a man who lives with an injury sustained in the Easter Rising and doesn’t want to see his sons make the same mistake he did – fighting a war on behalf of someone else’s ideals.
As always with McNamara’s characters, there is a lot of intelligence and nuance, which is why it is why disappointing to see Kevin Bohan’s Bernard Duffy played with such hysteria. Duffy is a man who claims to have also fought in the uprising 20 years earlier, but his determination to join the much younger men and women on the Cable Street frontline is indicative of what he missed out on when he was their age.
Whilst the character often brings some much needed comic relief, Bohan shines when revealing he may be delusional but he isn’t stupid. Michael Black’s Dessie often feels like he is a different play, playing the character as if he is in Peaky Blinders which is at odds with the performances and production.
Mickey Mason gives a solid performance as Jim, yearning to fight in the Spanish Civil War (with modern-day echoes of fighting for ISIS) much to Ruth’s horror. The religious divide is crucial to their relationship but their responses to the world around them is an even bigger divide. It is a shame we don’t see more of their relationship, just as we see them get closer in spite of their difference they are torn apart. Lynn and Mason have good chemistry and Lynn gives a tenacious performance in her confrontation with Maureen.
Maureen yearns to go back to Ireland because there is nothing for them in London and Cuskelly gives a realistic portrayal of a woman who isn’t racist, but just wants to look out for and be amongst her own people whilst still helping out her community because that’s what neighbours do. It is Weber’s Liam that gives this new play a classic drama feel (it often reminded me of Juno and the Paycock) as a man who has won wars but paid the price. There is a sense of a man who is weak and has given up but mentally Liam is the strongest character, aware of his prospects and the future he is equally appalled by both sides of the battle.
With tighter and more consistent direction from Justin Murray, this could become of the finest new plays of the year. The material is there to make it a classic play. Kudos to McNamara for another solid and moving production that will stay with me for a long time.
Martin McNamara’s prequel to this production Traitors, Cads and Cowards will be performed in Wandsworth Prison as part of the Wandsworth Arts Fringe.