“How are ya now?” as they ask on Letterkenny. The answer being, “Good ‘n’ you?”
But, come here – sick of television yet? Tired of the slick dramas and kooky comedies that suddenly seem to exist in vast, vast quantity to distract you from these pandemic times? Fatigue setting in at all?
No worries. This column understands. And today I recommend something that will take you out of the usual, away from the conventional and will, frankly, bruise and shock you. It’s theatre put online, but not simply a recording of a stage play. Stick with me here.
Cyprus Avenue is available to stream free this month courtesy of the Royal Court Theatre in London. You can watch it easily, via Royal Court’s website, Facebook Page or YouTube channel. Thing is, and what makes the production unusual and successful in a tricky arena, is that it’s a hybrid. BBC Four adapted the award-winning play last year and added short filmed scenes to enhance the context of the action. Be forewarned: the action at the climax is unnerving and despairing.
The play, in this adaptation and on stage (I saw it at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin two years ago), features a stunning performance by Stephen Rea. Written by David Ireland, it’s about blind hatred. It’s about identity politics and the madness that can arise from believing, with histrionic fierceness, in the specialness of your identity and what you claim as your own exceptional culture.
Rea’s character Eric is a Belfast man, a Protestant who believes he’s British to the core. When we first meet him, during a session with therapist Bridget (Ronke Adekoluejo), he says, “I come from East Belfast. The last thing I am is Irish.” The smallness of his world is further explained when he says, “I grew up in Belfast. I never met a black person ‘til I was 47.” Anyone with any knowledge of Northern Ireland’s recent past can find this plausible.
But the play is about more than the smallness of the setting. Eric is seeing a therapist because he’s going mad. He’s convinced that his daughter’s new baby is the spitting image of Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Fein. He’s obsessed with this idea. As he explains himself to the therapist, his story is unpacked. He loathes Irish Catholics, whom he refers to as “Fenians.” He believes the Fenians have set out to exterminate his Protestant/British culture and, possibly, all people who claim that identity.
Eloquent and lucid, his casual hatred and paranoia are comical at first. It is an entertainment, this coolly bigoted talk. Eric’s wife (Andrea Irvine) is worried, but he’s always been small-minded, so it’s hard to tell if he’s actually gone over the edge. It’s his daughter Julie (Amy Molloy, in a wonderful performance) who feels the brunt of this escalating, insane belief that her baby is, in fact, Gerry Adams reborn.
Eric encounters a stranger, Slim (Chris Corrigan), who, as it happens, is a Protestant gunman in search of a Catholic he’s been assigned to kill. Their conversation takes the dark humour to new and surreal heights and you can only be amused, uneasily, by the wit. Then Eric makes a suggestion about what to do with this troublesome baby.
Although about Northern Ireland, the play’s themes about hatred and intolerance are universal. (Go figure the connection between the title and the Van Morrison song of the same title.) The stage setting (by Vicky Featherstone) is barebones: Just a few chairs on the stage and people talking, thus adding to the emphatic universality. It will, in the end – and what an ending – terrify you like nothing you’ve seen on TV recently.
Finally, this column continues with a “Stay-at-home-period daily-streaming pick.” Today’s pick is Mildred Pierce (Crave). You haven’t seen authentic melodrama until you’ve seen this, Todd Haynes’s slow, simmering adaptation of the James M. Cain novel. The miniseries originally aired in 2011, and it moves with aching attention to small details and with scenes that play very long indeed. Unlike the old movie version, starring Joan Crawford, this is no soap-opera weeper. Like the novel, described as “a pre-feminist story,” it’s about married Mildred (Kate Winslet) kicking out her husband (Brian F. O’Byrne), getting a job and eventually becoming a very successful entrepreneur. She takes a lover (Guy Pearce, as a great cad) and tackles raising her viciously selfish daughter (Evan Rachel Wood as the adult daughter). Set with emphasis in Depression-era America, it seethes with issues of poverty and class.
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