The setting is dark, the smell of beer wafts into the audience. This is naturalism at its miserably best. Set in a pub in Belfast, Northern Ireland in the 1970s where war between the Irish and the English, the Catholics and the Protestants is waging. Lives are torn apart, families are destroyed, young men become killers and women are accustomed to blood and violence. It has become second nature. The place smells like death and this production captures that feeling, enhanced by the presence of three characters. An IRA activist (Fionn) and the son of an English landowner (William), are seeing the same girl, Aislin. “Why not” she quips, with a knowing grin,” I don’t want to get involved in politics so I’m on both sides” and so far it works. However life is not that simple and when the situation comes to a violent head, and decisions must be made, Aislin decides to come clean. And later, when Fionn comes into the pub with a bag under his arm, we know what is about to happen. At that point we even wondered if the last scene following the one just mentioned, was even necessary! The play is beautifully constructed, the characters are believable. The three of them create perfect dramatic balance in that situation where a terrible malaise haunts us right up to the final moment and our attention never falters.
The 90 minutes went by too quickly. Jackie Block as Aislin fairly breathed the ambiguity of the troubled woman caught between both men, a metaphor of the Ireland that is terrifying her and that takes on more meaning when she learns she is pregnant. The baby, named Queen Maeve, a product of both warring factions, no matter which one, might even be the first movement towards some sort of resolution. That is their hope. Jackie Block (Aislin) offers us an intelligent, well defined performance that made the audience live the situation through her skin. The two young men became the flesh and bones of these unfortunate characters whose lives will have to cross someday but for the moment , they are dangling on the end of a rope, waiting for the fates to snip off the ends. And the waiting is excruciating. The Irish accents did slip in and out, betraying some good old Canadian vowels from time to time but no matter, this show is solid and a good coach could clean that up. This is a perfect evening of theatre.
GCTC and Gladstone Theatre, take note ! Please don’t let this production leave Ottawa without signing some future engagement. The Frenzy of Queen Maeve at Academic Hall.
The Frenzy of Queen Maeve by Anthony MacMahon, Directed by Josh Ramden,
With Jackie B lock (Aislin), Chris Hapke (William) and Nathan Howe (Fionn)
A Production by Bzzt Trapdoor Theatre from Saskatoon