The Border Game: A sparky response to the centenary commemorations

Belfast International Arts Festival: Piece guaranteed to kick off thorny conversations

The title has an ironic ring, hinting at light-hearted shenanigans around this thing casually referred to as “the Border”. But beneath the laddish humour of the early scenes of Michael Patrick and Oisín Kearney’s searching new play beats a dark, angry heart, emanating from a century-old line on a map, a stream through a field, a political and psychological fault line, that has shaped the mindsets of the people who live along it.

First-hand personal testimonies have fuelled a theatrical concept, which ricochets between surreal recollection and lived experience, as intersecting subtexts and hidden agendas head towards a somewhat inconsequential finale.

The action is propelled forward by show-stopping dance sequences choreographed by Dylan Quinn

Ex-lovers Henry, a northern Protestant, and Sinéad, a southern Catholic, meet up, symbolically, at a broken fence on her family’s land, marking the boundary between two countries. He’s hung over and needy, she’s focused on mending the fence. It’s all a bit of laugh, until the laughter abruptly halts.

Director Emma Jordan steers a sure and steady course through the swirling storyline enclosed within Ciaran Bagnall’s grassy, derelict set, a world that is at once mysterious and mystical, squalid and disintegrating. The action is propelled forward by show-stopping dance sequences choreographed by Dylan Quinn, who comes from the Fermanagh borderlands and instinctively understands its body language.

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Patrick McBrearty and Liz FitzGibbon deftly handle a script that builds from jokey insults to an angry, anguished maelstrom of accusation and reminiscence that has forever shaped their respective mindsets. Individually they register powerfully as two damaged people rebuilding their lives after a long relationship that ended in misunderstanding and recrimination, although their romantic entanglement does not quite ring true.

This Prime Cut-Lyric coproduction offers a sparky response to the centenary commemorations with a piece guaranteed to kick off thorny conversations and confront dour political pronouncements on an issue now finding itself, uncomfortably, centre stage in the ongoing post-Brexit debate.

Runs at the Lyric Theatre until Saturday, October 23rd, as part of Belfast International Arts Festival