David Ireland’s dark comedy explores the shadows left by The Troubles.

Cyprus Avenue debuted in Dublin in 2016. Ireland’s play follows Eric, an elderly man troubled by his inbuilt prejudices from growing up in Belfast, and his family who suffer at the hands of his bias. The fate of Northern Ireland in the ongoing Brexit negotiations recently dominated our headlines once again, making the timing of this production serendipitously apt.

Credit: Mihaela Bodlovic

Those local to Glasgow know the city has its own fair share of sectarian rivalry, making its presentation at the Tron Theatre all the more appropriate, as well as it being the hometown of the playwright. 

The show starts with an elderly man, Eric, portrayed hauntingly by David Hayman, sitting alone centre stage; his wife, Bridget (Ann Louise Ross) enters and asks him, “What are you doing? What are you doing sitting there doing nothing?” over sinister soundscapes and lighting (design by Noroshini Thambar and Kate Bonney, respectively).

The audience finds themselves in a grey consultancy room with grey carpets and grey furniture (set and costume design by Becky Minto) as Eric is gently probed on his understanding of recent events (revealed to the audience over the course of the one-act 90-minute piece) by his clinical psychologist, Bridget (Saskia Ashdown). Ashdown plays Bridget with a gentle, albeit no-nonsense nature, exhibiting much patience as his views on life and certain people groups become clear.

Credit: Mihaela Bodlovic

Cyprus Avenue is certainly not for the faint-hearted, with themes of violence and hateful language clearly spelt out in pre-performance correspondence by the theatre, in particular violence towards a baby. While the cultures around the religious rivalry are certainly cut-throat and cruel, the absurdity of Eric’s actions, particularly towards his young granddaughter, felt a little beyond belief and unnecessary for this particular audience member. 

Bonney’s lighting design echoes the eerie synthetic pulses of fluorescent lighting in the consultancy room and warm dappled sunlight shining through the trees. Fast-moving cues create moments of suspense for the audience.

Shaun Blaney simmers as the surprisingly well-read loyalist thug, Slim, leaping entertainingly from sinister to sincere as he accosts Eric. Sinead Sharkey gives an emotive performance as Julie, Eric’s daughter, desperate to bring her own young daughter up in a world without prejudice. Ross is endearing as Julie’s mother, torn between her loyalties as her mother, and wife to Eric.

Credit: Mihaela Bodlovic

Andy Arnold’s direction ensures the tension remains thick in the air throughout, with audible gasps and outbursts of laughter (both genuine and uncomfortable) from the audience in response to the action on stage. The show toes a very fine line between humour and horror and certainly stands up to the show’s ‘shocking’ reputation from previous productions.

Cyprus Avenue, named after the Belfast street where Eric and his family live, asks the intriguing question of what might happen at the hands of someone when they become mentally unwell while living with hate and vitriol for decades on end. It makes for uncomfortable viewing but is a rich piece of writing deftly performed by the cast, and certainly leaves the audience challenged.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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