The King of East Belfast Review
By Conor O’Neill
In my presumptive nature, fuelled by the press release, I assumed Stephen Beggs’s The King of East Belfast would be a glorious, sycophantic telling of a local East Belfast boy came good. Well shut that front door. What we have here is far from the idyll of today’s classless, click-and-collect bookies’ experience.
Here is another world, when betting was illegal. Beggs, the son-in-law of the Clark Groves’ grandson of the great Clark Groves, AKA The King of east belfast sets the stall out in quite an intimidating fashion. Never has theatre seemed so strange.
For a start we’re, all 23 of us, a full capacity I’m informed, are hanging outside a shop front in Connswater Shopping Centre.
Yet it’s the spot where the old rope-makers’ works once thrived, and many pound shilling and pence of their hard-earned gains went to Groves’ pocket. Having worked in a bookies for a few years myself, I know the punter always loses.
Shiny shoes, relationships with coppers – who like the rest of us like a flutter – , alcoholism, the hope of that big-pay-day, bankruptcy, sticky fingers, henchmen and lines like “Can you really make your money out of a working man’s vices and still call yourself a good man?” sets the tone to this 45 minute performance.
A good man and a bookie? A paradox of course. One that writer, and sole actor Stephen Beggs hangs his trunks on. And a joy to watch he is. Directed by Paula McFetridge and produced by Kabosh theatre company, Beggs plays a son of the mate of Clark Groves, namely Jim Stewart.
Discussing with us, breaking all fourth window rules and regulations, Beggs strides around an empty office; at times taking whiskey swigs from a hip flask, undressing and redressing all the while pouring petrol all over the shop – quite fitting it was in a shopping centre – and chucking dockets, legal papers all to be used as kindling.
Memories of his lifetime at sae with the Navy, bad blood with The King and more besides make for a quare tale.
The tension is now at boiling point, exactly as the rope tight script asks for. Beggs reminds me of Yossarian from Catch 22. Damned if he does, damned if he don’t.
We’re all waiting on the climax, a Zipper lighter is announced, struck and well…
Fab theatre in the most unlikely of places. Beggs writing and acting will surely stagger any viewer.
Unfortunately folks, all 23 seats are sold for tonight’s performance, but settle petal, this show will have legs. If you see it advertised simply book a ticket.