By Conor O’Neill
Photography courtesy of Carrie Davenport
Nearly 25 years since the historic Good Friday/Belfast Agreement. Owen McCafferty’s Agreement focuses on the four days of negotiation, threats of walking, subterfuge, talks about talks, who’ll discuss with who and pressures from within and without, leading up to that big day. The world is watching Northern Ireland, no one can put a foot wrong.
Strange to think I was only 22-years-old back in 1998 when I cast my first vote, and equally strange how little I knew about the process behind it. I, and many others, simply wanted peace. Apart from being a fantastic play, with brilliant writing, direction, production and performances, Agreement will stand the test of time for being a living document of those furious and focused few days when Northern Ireland, Britain, the Republic of Ireland, and indeed, the world was on the cusp of the unimaginable happening: a deal where all sides’ demands were ‘mostly’ met.
Director Charlotte Westenra and set and costume designer Conor Murphy’s offerings are perfect to bring the seven main characters’ plights, furies, sticking points and mini-dramas to life in the Lyric’s main theatre, which by the way, was at full capacity. McCafferty’s script crackles with intensity and rolls along at a frantic pace in keeping with the intensity of the talks.
All the main suspects are here: Senator George Mitchell (Richard Croxford), Tony Blair (Rufus Wright), Mo Mowlam (Andrea Irvine), John Hume (Dan Gordon), Bertie Ahern (Ronan Leahy), Gerry Adams (Packy Lee), and last but certainly not least, David Trimble (Patrick O’Kane). Each and everyone perfect in their role.
What, I suspect, is overlooked in history are the personal dramas behind the big picture. Bertie Ahern is not only having to change his country’s constitution but has to bury his mother in the middle of the talks; Mo Mowlam is not only secretary of state but is fighting cancer and being a woman in a man’s world. Plus each and everyone of them has to sell the proposed agreement to the hardliner contingent of whoever they represent.
At a push my vote goes to Andrea Irvine as Mo Mowlam for performance of the night. Maybe it’s due to her being the only woman on stage, but most likely it’s down to her realism and the abruptness of her shouting ‘Fuck!’ The others curse too, Adams and Trimble excluded, but when Irvine says ‘fuck’ a collective smile can be felt around the auditorium.
And here’s the thing, as big as the issue is the script of full of brevity. I suppose it’s a bit of gallows humour. McCafferty peppers the script with nuanced little jokes.
The deadline has passed, Blair should be on holiday in Spain, Clinton, like some omnipotent power from above has telephone talks with whoever he wants and Trimble thinks it’s a ploy of sleep deprivation to get him to sign his own death warrant.
Agreement has a running time of 105 minutes, with no interval. And it’s easy to understand why. Any break for wine and snacks would ruin the intensity of the performance.
The press are waiting with bated breath, the players have reached an agreement and it’s Good Friday, April 10th, 1998. The rest we know is history. And for my penny’s worth, viewing this play should be on the national curriculum for all children in Ireland and the UK.
A powerful piece of theatre. The best I’ve witnessed in many a year.
Agreement runs up to and including April 22nd, 2023. For booking details visit http://www.lyrictheatre.co.uk or simply phone the box office on 02893 444939