The Bunker, London SE1 – until 21 September 2019
Reviewed by Antonia Hebbert
Belfast, 20 years after the Good Friday Agreement. Two blokes banter, taking us into the city and into their lives. We get of picture of blighted childhoods that haven’t led anywhere. Sas and Monty are stuck in a world of boozing and joblessness, growing older but unable to grow up. Their only escape is ‘The Game’, where they pretend to be anything they want. Then Sas doesn’t want to play any more, and they have to face the truth about a horrible event in their shared past.
It’s very intense – at just one hour long, it really puts you through the wringer – but also has very funny moments. Barry Calvert and Brendan Quinn play the two friends, and they are completely convincing as Belfast boys with boxed-in lives. The rich language and Belfast dialect make the play feel vivid even though the set is sparse (with soundscape by Michael Mormecha). The play is all from their point of view, so you don’t get the political-economic explanation of what’s gone wrong for Belfast’s working classes. But you do see lives being damaged through the generations, so that children and teenagers only see adults with damaged lives.
Playwright Alice Malseed wants to draw attention to the way some groups in Belfast have been let down and left behind by failed government and harsh economics. The statistics (not given in the play) are horrendous: one third of people in Northern Ireland live on or below the bread line, and there have been more suicides since the Good Friday Agreement than deaths during the Troubles. In a way the pivotal event in the play detracts from this: it pins Sas and Monty’s failure to grow up to something very specific. But it is a powerful piece, and (beep-beep-beep Brexit alert) a timely reminder that there are real people in Northern Ireland, who are being overlooked despite all the backstop blather.