Review: Everything Between Us

David Ireland drops more than a few depth charges in one of the best pieces about conflict in “post conflict” Northern Ireland yet written

Venue: Project Arts Centre

Date Reviewed: February 16th, 2015

Website: projectartscentre.ie

Phone: 01-8819613

Wed, Feb 18, 2015, 14:15

   

Everything Between Us

Project Arts Centre, Dublin

****

It takes an especially brave writer, or perhaps a fairly reckless one, to alienate his audience within the opening seconds of a play. But that is how David Ireland introduces us to Teeni, an amazingly nasty piece of work, who is dragged onstage, kicking and screaming, while still hurling racist abuse at an offstage black woman.

We are deep in the bowels of a government building in Northern Ireland, on the first day of a fledgling Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The Unionist politician Sandra would be sitting on this committee, were it not for the fact that she is currently sitting on Teeni. As fate would have it, they are long estranged sisters. The hyper-realistic detail of Sarah Bacon’s set – a maze of pipes, valves, and electronic enclosures in a grey concrete bunker – ought to alert you that we are in the realm of symbol; this is hardly unusual for Northern Irish drama. Here is the basement where secrets are submerged and rage suppressed, just waiting to erupt.

“You know you’re in trouble when the South Africans are coming to help you,” Stacey Gregg’s Teeni later reflects, when the air has cleared. Here Ireland, a remarkably daring controversialist, now making his debut in the Republic of his surname, is setting his depth charges. Just how much truth, and what kind of truths, are you willing to hear?

Not for the first time, Rough Magic stages a play from a Northern Irish protestant perspective, rarely aired in the South, and from a Ballybeen militantly Loyalist perspective to boot: Teeni and Sandra’s father, we learn, was an assassinated UDA member: the “Fenian” slurs come thick and fast.

But Ireland’s play isn’t just a depiction of deeply divided sisters, deeply divided sides, or even deeply divided Unionists. It is more stinging and intelligent; it’s a depiction of a deeply divided self. When they aren’t fighting, director Sophie Motley keeps the characters at a distant remove, like caged animals, but their similarities and contradictions keep sharpening. Teeni is an alcoholic recently gone dry; Sandra an alcoholic who never drank. In one beautifully telling, understated moment, Gregg casually pushes a button marked “Do Not Touch”, like a trouble addict. The character is so vividly constructed in fluently splenetic writing and an effortlessly commanding performance, it almost overshadows Sandra, the straitlaced reformer.

This begins to feel like stalemate: Where is there to go, for them, or for us? But gradually they bleed into one another, closer to reconciliation, McGibbon never better than her confession: “I resorted to crying, the Catholic way of praying. I wept like a Fenian.”

The play is so funny – wickedly, irresponsibly, cruelly funny – you might write it off as juvenile in the first five minutes. By its conclusion, though, it seems like one of the most slyly mature pieces about conflict in “post conflict” Northern Ireland yet written. How can we move forward, after everything between us? Not by exorcising the truth, and our destructive tendencies, but by learning to live with them.

Ends Feb 28