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.
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.
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.