In The Name Of The Son: The Gerry Conlon Story, Lyric Theatre, Belfast, November 3rd, 2021

By Conor O’Neill


“I should be forty stone with all the guilt I’m carrying.” Gerry Conlon’s own words.

The Lyric’s main theatre is just over three quarters full. 300 plus theatre goers are in the audience, and what a buzz to be sitting among them. This show was meant to run in March 2019, and what changes have come our way since then. But we’ve only had just over 18 months of relatively easy torture compared to Conlon’s 15 years of wrongful imprisonment and the decade and a half after his release.

The set is worthy of note only for the fact that it’s unremarkable. A chest height column to the rear, in front of that what looks like a prison bed, to the audience’s right a simple block of a stool. What actor Shaun Blaney makes of this simple design over the next two hours is simply theatre magic.

Writers Richard O”Rawe – Gerry’s closest childhood friend – and Martin Lynch provide director Tony Devlin with a well crafted script which tracks Conlon’s freedom, yet being out of jail is not freedom after 15 years of institutionalised abuse.

From petty criminal to an internationally renowned name fighting for justice, the story of Gerry Conlon is not an easy watch. You’ve all probably seen the 1993 film In The Name Of The Father, but what’s on offer tonight is the tragic yet heroic tale of Conlon’s fight to clear his father Giuseppe’s name, fight for the Birmingham Six’s freedom and throw himself into human rights’ abuses the world over.

If by this introduction you fear In The Name Of The Son is a sombre viewing from start to finish, worry not; yes we’re faced with a man wrestling with his past, but 70 per cent of the show is laughter. An unhinged laughter but stomach crunching all the same.

Upon release Conlon finds himself thrown into a media storm. Hailed as a celebrity and a folk hero to millions across the globe, he finds his way to New York then Washington, meetings with Joe Kennedy and celebrity after celebrity along the way.

It’s here Shaun Blaney shines. His gift for character acting sees him move from Conlon to Kennedy, Jonny Depp to Jack Nicholson and Dustin Hoffman, the manic director Jim Sheridan to his friend, confidant, driver and fellow drug fiend Butsy, sisters Ann and Bridie, Charlie Haughey, Daniel Day Lewis, The Late Late Show’s Gay Byrne, girlfriends Minty and Angie, Liam Neeson, Bruce Springsteen and too many more to mention. Blaney doesn’t rely on multiple costume changes, he simply ducks behind the partition and pops up as another character, failing that he simply pirouettes and a new character is introduced. The sweat is visible from about 15 minutes in

With women throwing themselves at him and money trickling in from the British government, Conlon succumbs to the life of of a junkie. More than once he’s told by those closest that he’s “turned his room into a prison cell.”

There’s scene after scene which flawlessly dovetail together. Whether it be taking Jonny Depp on a wild few days drinking as the travel to Dingle Bay too see dolphins, to the hysterical premier viewing of Sheridan’s portrayal In The Name Of The Father., on seeing the scene where he and Giuseppe argue in jail Conlon screams: “Jim, for fuck sake, we weren’t in the same cell, we weren’t even in the same jail!” His few minutes of his time working in Angie’s mum’s cafe sees him all confessional and admitting to all his mistakes, this on paper should be quite a morose scene, but given that Blaney is not only acting Conlon bearing his heart to the world but at the same time getting order from the cafe’s regulars, touching admissions are peppered with orders for eggs benedict and bacon sarnies making this both moving and farcical.

And it’s Giuseppe’s presence that holds the script together. Like a ghost in the background, Conlon’s guilt is such that he can barely say his father’s name.

Lighting designer James C McFetridge’s clever use of dramatic light changes coupled with an array of aptly chosen tunes, whether it be the Mommas and Papa’s California dreaming to The Pet Shop Boys’ You Were Always On My Mind or a bombastic Born To Run by Springsteen, to the Waterboys Whole Of The Moon.

Yet, there is redemption. Alone and homeless he returns to Belfast and nurses his now 75-year-old mother, “Here’s me, a man in his 50s and only looking after me ma.” as he massages her feet. And of course, it’s in the DNA of every Irish son to listen to the one who brought him into the world as Conlon reconciles his past with his present.

Two hours of blistering theatre that’ll not only make you laugh but ponder on many the bigger issues.

In The Name Of The Son runs at the Lyric up to and including Sunday, November 14th. There are matinees on Saturdays and Sundays at 230.

For Booking info visit http://www.lyrictheatre.co.uk or call the box office on 02890 381081

ENDS

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