When you walk into the theatre to see ‘Cyprus Avenue’ – a play originally written by David Ireland, here performed by the EUTC and directed by William Byam Shaw – you are handed a sheet of paper outlining content warnings and corresponding resources, including Women’s Aid Scotland and Corrymeela Community, Northern Ireland’s oldest peace and reconciliation organisation. This, because the play touches on incredibly wounding topics, but does so brilliantly and with startling sensitivity.
Set in post-Troubles Belfast, the play tells the story of Eric Miller (Peter Morrison), who labours under the delusion that his grand-daughter is inhabited by the spirit of Gerry Adams, an Irish politician. Whilst initially, this premise is absurdly comical, it quickly turns dark, leaving the audience in stunned, horrified silence.
Ireland’s writing is ingenious, weaving unexpected witticism with brutally open discussions of prejudice, bigotry, and national identity. Indeed, this is Eric’s primary conflict – whether he is capable of moving on from the trauma of the past, and reconcile with Catholics and the Irish. Eric’s is a national wound, as every person in Northern Ireland was touched by the Troubles, but his resolution is one with disastrous consequences.
Morrison’s acting was undoubtedly the strongest aspect of the performance. He plays Eric with incredible delicatesse, such that he draws both empathy and horror from the audience. He mixes humour and violence perfectly, a blend that makes the denouement of the play all the more harrowing. Indeed, Morrison’s Eric is one that we are afraid of not simply for his psychopathic cruelty, but because his prejudices are ones we recognise in daily life. The hypocrisy of saying the n-word and “I don’t hate black people” in the same sentence is all too real, making the play all the more relevant in the current political climate.
The rest of the cast complement each other brilliantly. Anna Phillips as psychiatrist Bridget is sharp and cool, unafraid to poke at the old wounds that the Troubles left in Eric’s psyche. Aine Higgins and Francesca Sellors are excellent as Eric’s daughter and wife. Their sheer humanity in the final scenes makes the story yet more poignant. Jacob Baird’s Slim is both hilarious and unsettling, bringing the darkest kind of humour to the story. Perhaps my only criticism is that his anger issues are consistently one-dimensional, so the yelling and gun-waving loses its power.
The performance ends on a chilling note – Morrison laughing through his insanity as the lights fade to black. The cast do not return to the stage for the applause, further emphasising that this piece stands not as a performance but as a discussion, or a documentary. It raises vital questions on the human mind and its healing process, and exposes the complexity of issues like religious differences, national identity, and general social prejudice. It is difficult to watch. I came away shaken at what I had seen. Yet that is absolutely the point. We are meant to be disturbed, to feel as though a spotlight has been shone in our faces. This play demands we look at our prejudices, conscious or otherwise, and address them, lest we hurt the ones we love in the ways that Eric does.
PHOTOS: Erica Belton