Review – Trouble: A rock and a hard place

A chilling and challenging piece shows how far equality and gay rights have come in Northern Ireland – and how far is left to go


The Mac, Belfast


It’s no picnic being gay in Northern Ireland, but it’s better than it used to be. In 1991, a hundred or so people took part in Belfast’s first Gay Pride march. Thanks to the campaigning efforts of those defiant few, a procession of some 20,000 made its way through the city centre in 2015. Then there is the other side of the coin. Northern Ireland is the only region in these islands where same sex marriage does not exist and where a majority vote in the Assembly can be overturned by a benign-sounding Petition of Concern.


In this chilling and challenging piece, Theatreofpluck's artistic director Niall Rea has joined forces with writer Shannon Yee, who is currently involved in a High Court case to lift the same sex marriage ban, while celebrating the 10th anniversary of being one half of the UK's first civil partnership. Yee grew up in the liberal, socially diverse environment of America's east coast from where, in 2004, she moved to Belfast. Her own contrasting experiences of navigating one's sexuality promoted her to interview 46 LGBT individuals about their agonising existence below the radar during the Troubles.

Rea's design and direction – the latter in cooperation with Anna Newell – are both disorientating and sharply focused. Conan McIvor's video images are embedded into a large gauzy cube, around which the audience moves in semi-darkness. Glimpses and snatches from other lives bleed into a quagmire of verbatim testimonies, recorded on screen by a cast of high-profile actors. Out of Eduardo Patricio's pulsing soundscape, emerges a heady mix of laughter, fear, isolation and self-destruction. Notably, Alexandra Ford's admission of forbidden love comes wrenched from the depths of her soul, while PJ O'Reilly wryly recalls grubby back street bars and clubs where homosexuality and punk music became natural bedfellows.

Unsettlingly, Andrew Sandford is the sole live presence, transforming before our eyes from a beautiful, bare-torsoed young man into a resolute pillar of the community. Proceedings climax in a joyous dance celebration, but even there in that ostensibly safe place, reality intervenes suddenly, shockingly and with a horrible inevitability.

Trouble is at Belfast City Hall as a video archive installation throughout December

Jane Coyle

Jane Coyle is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in culture