Vault Festival: The 4th Country

Where

The Vault Festival, Crypt at the Vauits, Leake Street Tunnels, Waterloo.

When

11-16 Feb at 6pm. Running time 1 hr.

Who

Written by Kate Reid, directed by Gabriella Bird. Lighting designer Catja Hamilton. Producer Ellie Fitz-Gerald and Plain Heroines. Performed by Aoife Kennan, Cormac Elliot, Kate Reid, Rachael Rooney.

Rehearsal image of Kate Reid (Mel) and Rachael Rooney (Niamh) in The 4th Country
Rehearsal image of Kate Reid (Mel) and Rachael Rooney (Niamh) in The 4th Country

What

Set in contemporary Northern Ireland, The 4th Country looks at how global political decisions impact the lives of ordinary people and views the extraordinary changes facing Northern Ireland through the lives of ordinary people.

How

Kate Reid’s play takes inspiration from real stories including the closure of the Northern Irish parliament at Stormont during summer 2019, the change in the law allowing legalised abortion, and the trial of a British soldier accused of murder on Bloody Sunday.

The 4th Country takes a meta approach to jump between Reid’s four scenes where the actors break out of character, pause and discuss changes to scenes, directly address the audience, and regroup. I found this distracting and alienating, but it may prove palatable to audience members who find the plotlines and subject matter particularly difficult.

We meet Shona, first, a civil servant at Stormont. She’s welcoming a new intern, Mel, on her first day, but this first day will very quickly turn into one of “damage control” when a woman dies in pregnancy after being denied a legal abortion.

Production image for The 4th Country. Image by Tara Rooney.
Production image for The 4th Country. Image by Tara Rooney.

As we go back through issues which affect both Niamh, the dead woman, and Mel, we touch on issues around abortion, choice, past atrocities, current dilemmas (Niamh’s brother has a British lawyer girlfriend given a controversial defence brief), and seismic cultural change.

The 4th Country is a play which also deals with themes of female control over both their own bodies and their own careers. I felt it had so much to say, and it handled the plot coincidences well, but it left me emotionally cold due to the stop-start approach.

Judgement – Wow, Meow, or Furred Brow?

It’s a Meow for The 4th Country. There’s some thought-provoking material here, but it gets lost due to the approach taken, and the character of Niamh seems a bit short-changed.

The four-strong cast (including Reid herself as Mel) are excellent, and the surprising ending is provoking and thoughtful, but the play needs to be reworked a bit and, hard though the themes may be, they need more exploration and development.

LouReviews made a last-minute decision to purchase a ticket to see The 4th Country.

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