There’s nothing warm about this Belfast tale
Richard Clements and Ivan Little in Summertime. Photograph: Neil Harrison Photography
The Mac, Belfast
Its title may hint of long, balmy days, but warm and fragrant this play is emphatically not. In David Ireland’s new play for Tinderbox, unusually high summer temperatures are having a disturbing effect on a young man’s troubled mind, overheating his suppressed predilections, illuminating the dark recesses of his memory.
After a violent encounter in the street, he staggers into the office of a Church of Ireland minister, himself trying to find his place in a new parish.
Under director Michael Duke’s soft touch and within the privacy of Alyson Cummins’s realistic church hall set, an intriguing mutual dependency starts to develop. Richard Clements as the minister, Jonathan, oozes the easy charm and liberal views of the affluent chattering classes he belongs to: a fish out of water among the trenchant, fundamentalist views of his working-class parishioners in east Belfast.
Jonathan’s relaxed, politically correct attitudes to homosexuality, Catholicism, hell, immigration – even the good Lord himself – may be based on sound intellectual reasoning, but they find scant favour with Ivan Little’s big, bluff widower Joe, the parish mouthpiece. The two have a friendship of opposites until Isaac stumbles into their midst, cursing.
In his short career, Ryan McParland has carved out a hyper-energetic performance style. Under Duke’s tight control, he shines as Isaac in the unsettling hesitancy of his exchange with Clements, both actors demonstrating pin-sharp timing and a growing simpatico. The uncompromising revelation of the root of Isaac’s problems has the power to pack a real punch, but its effect is diluted by warnings of strong language relating to child abuse.
As he wades perilously out of his depth in the cesspool of this damaged young life, Clements effectively crafts a portrait of a hapless, well-meaning man who is in the wrong job. For all his best efforts, he is doing no better with Joe, whose homophobic obsessions have bubbled up to haunt him. And when Isaac’s judgmental, God-fearing sister Judith (Victoria Armstrong) pays him a cautionary visit, Jonathan starts to drown in uncharted waters.
In spite of a few logistic quibbles, Ireland patiently structures his torturous interlocking exchanges towards a horrible conclusion, en route navigating Joe’s sudden Damascene conversion. McParland explodes into the final scene before a clumsily executed climax, which falls short of the visceral impact one has come to expect from this fearless writer. Until November 16