Reviews

‘Pentecost’ at the Lyric Theatre Belfast

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“And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place”. (Book of Acts – Acts 2:1–6)

At the time that this play was set, such a creed was all but unimaginable. ‘Pentecost’ is set during one of Northern Ireland’s darkest periods, ‘The Troubles’, and focuses on the ‘Ulster Workers’ Council Strike’ (May 1974). Loyalists revolted against the prospect of shared rule in the form of Northern Ireland’s first power-sharing Executive and, their method of protest, a country wide strike. Electricity was cut, shipping ports brought to a standstill and mob culture ruled the streets. It was an altogether dangerous time, especially for those who did not share the opinions of its supporters. It is within this turbulent setting that Stewart Parker decided to set, what was to be his final play, ‘Pentecost’.

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Actor Paul Mallon as Lenny in a scene from Pentecost at the Lyric Theatre until 18 Oct. To book tel: 028 90381081 or www.lyrictheatre.co.uk Pic Credit: Steffan Hill

Stewart Parker lends an almost religious fervour to the events and, also invites the audience to, ironically, disregard their religious beliefs and, more importantly, differences. At the time the play was first performed (23rd September 1987) tensions still remained high. The ‘Northern Ireland Assembly’ had recently dissolved and the ‘Remembrance Day Bombing’ was yet to take place. With such friction between both communities, the introduction of a play that laid bare the flaws and barbarianism of both the strike and each community, was arguably a movement of its own. In today’s Northern Ireland, progress is clear and such upheaval is a thing of the past. However, even for one, such as myself, that never lived through these times, the religious discord between the characters still resonates.

Judith Roddy as Marian and Carol Moore as the ghost of Lily Matthews Lenny in a scene  from Pentecost by Stewart Parker at the Lyric Theatre until 18 Oct. To book tel: 028 90381081 or  www.lyrictheatre.co.uk Pic Credit: Steffan Hill

Judith Roddy as Marian and Carol Moore as the ghost of Lily Matthews Lenny in a scene
from Pentecost by Stewart Parker at the Lyric Theatre until 18 Oct. To book tel: 028 90381081 or
www.lyrictheatre.co.uk Pic Credit: Steffan Hill

‘Pentecost’ is a play with only five cast members, yet, in Jimmy Fay’s production for the Lyric he manages to encapsulate the atmosphere of thousands. Throughout the play the audience is hyper aware of the events that are seemingly occurring outside, and thus, it could therefore be believed that, with such a commotion, it would prove difficult to focus on the drama ensuing inside. However, with the heartbreak, division and moments of desperate unity played out in the late Lily Matthew’s abode, the external pandemonium fades into mere background. All but five characters are used to portray the views and frustrations of thousands and a mere tenant house to represent the country in which it stood. It is this foundation that Stewart Parker seems to set his play on, and is something that director, Jimmy Fay has clearly grasped.
 Actor Roisin Gallagher as Ruth in a scene from Pentecost at the Lyric Theatre until 18 Oct. To  book tel: 028 90381081 or www.lyrictheatre.co.uk Pic Credit: Steffan Hill

Actor Roisin Gallagher as Ruth in a scene from Pentecost at the Lyric Theatre until 18 Oct. To
book tel: 028 90381081 or www.lyrictheatre.co.uk Pic Credit: Steffan Hill

In this production the audience is all but transported to Lily’s humble parlour house, a guest, almost as unwelcome to Lily’s ghostly presence as the title character herself. One can almost believe that, like Marion, we are also stepping into the house of one recently deceased. The set has an almost time capsule like quality as we enter a living room evocative of many from the period, though, in this case it is one of Lily’s past and Marion’s immediate present and future. Most of what is to come is played out within the confines of the one room, yet, it alone harbours the love and secrets of its previous resident and promises refuge and a stage for its current lodgers. Alongside this impressive use of the stage, subtle lighting enables the audience to almost experience the blackouts that resulted from the strike and helps to fray even the stoutest of nerves when Lily first enters stage.
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Carol Moore as Lily Matthews and Judith Roddy as Marian in a scene from Pentecost at the Lyric Theatre until 18 Oct. To book tel: 028 90381081 or www.lyrictheatre.co.uk Pic Credit: Steffan Hill

The play focuses on the plight of each character to escape their past and their present as well as the discord evident both internally and externally. Despite Marion’s efforts to ostracize herself, her past, in the form of a recently separated husband, a friend who is suffering the effects of domestic abuse and an old friend of her estranged husband, seemingly refuse to let her move on. A religious divide is evident throughout, though none elude to it quite as much as the incredulous spirit of Lily Mathews. With each act and each emotional barrier, it is difficult to imagine a future for these characters, at least one that is rid of the prejudices and turmoil that they desperately cling to. It is the conviction of the actors – in particular Carol Moore in her portrayal of Lily as an unsettling presence who both haunts the living and is haunted by her past and Judith Roody (in her first Lyric production) who gives a moving performance as a woman on the run from her own past – that instil a hope within the audience that, like the Apostles at Pentecost, these characters will also reach an epiphany and will be “with one accord in one place”.

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Pentecost continues its run at the Lyric Theatre, Belfast until 18th September.  Tickets can be bought via the Lyric Theatre website.

Categories: Reviews, Theatre

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