The Border Game, Lyric Theatre, Belfast, October 7, 2021, Review

By Conor O’Neill

Photography courtesy of Ciaran Bagnal

“To Dublin, it is no man’s land. To Belfast, it is a bog full of culchies. To London, it is a place of bandits and criminals.”

With a 100 interviews under their belts, writers and actors of this piece of theatre, Michael Patrick and Oisin Kearney’s latest play is based on the people living close to or just over the border. A topical lockdown play written during a pandemic and brought to the Lyric’s main stage as the Northern Ireland ‘celebrates’ its centenary.

The audience enthuses through masks as tractors gargle in the background and soon the place begins to fill to its covid-rules capacity. Lights down, curtain up, 7.30 precisely. Over the next hour and 20 minutes we’re taken on a a tale that will resound mostly with those from the countryside, but maybe to those from the suburbs, a land of the strange and bewildering.

Patrick and Kearney are no strangers to writing hit plays, My Left Nut and The Alternative being named in the both the program and highly recommended through previous reviews, expectations are bound to run high. But does The Border Game compare to the writing and acting duo’s former glory? Having saw neither of the two aforementioned works, I have no prejudices to bring to the table. So, what are my thoughts on The Border Game?

Well, the setup is rather interesting. And the action fast paced and engaging from the start. Our two protagonists, Henry, played by Michael Patrick, and Oisin Kearney’s, Sinead have a shared past. One which onion-like get peeled layer by layer as the plot is revealed.

Sinead is a teacher and daughter of a farmer whose in the midst of selling off some land. She also just happens to be Catholic and the farm straddles both sides of the border – sound familiar, Slab Murphy anyone? Henry on the other hand is a university drop-out who has took over his late father’s shop and just doesn’t seem happy with his lot.

The set changes little, the mood, however, ebbs and flows from anger, to sentimentality, rave scenes and then to little flights of fancy from both characters as the full story emerges.

This play is basically a history of the border, and therefore a history of Ireland’s troubled past seen through the eyes of two people who have so much and such little in common.

With two successful writers and performers, it’s of little surprise that the two write and deliver a fine performance under the eye of director Emma Jordan.

An there is a wonderfully woven tapestry of little side stories to intrigue the audience along the way.

Henry has a question to ask. But to who? Sinead, apart from clearing the land from hooligans for the upcoming agent’s inspection, also has a fully laden table of issues to deal with.

There’s will they won’t they scenario running under these little side stories, the ‘will they, wont they?’ being the true test as family loyalty fights with the heart’s desire. And two flights of fancy worthy of note. These two are probably not essential to the main storyline and will probably divide audiences. The first being the Crufts narration by Jean and Steven of a 100-year-old border collie doing one of those dog agility courses. I’ll not give too much away other that writing that the dog passes through numerous towns at the pointy end of the North/South border.

The second is a verbal montage of a range of tele Game Shows from Family Fortunes to Countdown conundrums to Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? Both of these are funny and at times insightful, but they don’t run with the flow of the narrative.

Should you go and see The Border Game? Definitely, but pay attention. Even the moving of the mandatory face mask may mean you miss a tiny bit of important dialogue. Is there a disjointed nature to the play? Definitely, hopefully this will straightened out with a rewrite or two. It’s the pace and chemistry of Patrick and Kearney’s onstage personas and the little undercurrents that kept me enthralled.

For booking information visit https://lyrictheatre.co.uk/whats-on/the-border-game

Or phone the Box Office on 02890 381081

The Border Game runs at The Lyric until Saturday October 23, 2021

ENDS

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