Cyprus Avenue (Royal Court)

A first visit to the Royal Court for David Ireland’s challenging play, co-ptoduced with the Abbey Theatre and starring Stephen Rea, who returns to the role of Eric Miller.

Stephen Rea in Cyprus Avenue
Stephen Rea in Cyprus Avenue

We first see Eric as he shambles on to an empty stage, in a smart suit which is too big, and a sigh on his lips. His clinical psychologist, Bridget, “a young black woman”, coaxes more than monosyllabic answers out of him: “I’m not Irish, I’m British.”

Something has happened for Eric to be here, but we don’t know what. His daughter Julie has a new baby girl, but he’s not fond of children, and when he sees the face of IRA chief Gerry Adams (albeit without a beard) on baby Mary May, the seed is sown for an uncomfortable black comedy which switches to a bleak and violent conclusion.

Rea gives Eric a heart and soul – his hatred of ‘Fenians’, his Riverdance cavorting, his shocking expletive about his daughter when she was young, his drunken adventures in O’Neill’s (bringing to life the Camden Town Irish-Englishman he befriends) – so we like him.

A crumpled, desperate study of a man crumbling into oblivion, his performance gives Cyprus Avenue the feel of a one-man show, with the other characters merely cyphers, some – the would-be terrorist Slim – perhaps not even real.

The change of pace as Eric destroys all around him is quietly shocking, and the inevitable explosion of violence caught several audience members in the on-stage seats by surprise; it felt uncomfortable to watch audience members in distress, somehow.

Amy Molloy and Stephen Rea in Cyprus Avenue
Amy Molloy and Stephen Rea in Cyprus Avenue

This is a brave play which clicks by balancing Eric’s disintegration with the comedy Ireland, Rea and director Vicky Featherstone skilfully weave into the role.

Other cast members – Ronke Adekoluejo (Bridget), Chris Corrigan (Slim), Andrea Irvine (Bernie, the wife), Amy Molloy (Julie, the daughter) – give grounding and balance to the proceedings.

Cyprus Avenue continues at the Royal Court to 23rd March, with limited availability.