As the Tide Ebbs – Lyric Theatre, Belfast

Writer: Pearse Elliott

Director: Martin McSharry

Reviewer: Colm G Doran

Rawlife Theatre Company and The Lyric Theatre present the world premiere of Pearse Elliott’s As The Tide Ebbs. A three-hander set across one long night in a rundown council house in Belfast. The piece deals with the themes of alcoholism, loneliness and the legacy of the troubles as witnessed by three men; the no nonsense Shasu, the bumbling (aptly named) Fuzzy and the voyeur of the two men – Wishy. (Played by Marty Maguire, Billy Clarke and Michael Liebmann)

Walking into the Naughton Studio, Niall Rea’s set design cements itself as the fourth character of the piece; merging a dirt-filled drug den with a post-apocalyptic bunker, its jagged walls and chaotic surfaces loom large over the action. The torn net curtains, the dated wallpaper and mismatched furniture create lucid images of the space as it once was when as Fuzzy later reminisces ‘My wee ma would warm her arse by the fire.’

The play showcases the trademark Belfast wit of Elliot with many displays of crowd-pleasing jokes and blue humour, this is expected from the man who wrote the sell-out show The Holy Holy Bus that split the sides of audiences last year – what is less expected is the more heartfelt moments of the piece. Maguire’s portrayal of the loud-mouthed Shasu becomes even richer as he shatters the comedic atmosphere with a haunting line: ‘I can’t go to bed without a drink.’ Clarke’s portrayal of the blundering Fuzzy is intelligent and consistent, every muscle that moves is done so with precision, his indignant replies and sarcastic ‘har har har’ are the perfect foil to Maguire’s teasing Shasu. Similarly Liebmann’s quietly measured portrayal of Wishy is even-handed and natural. Elliot’s humour keeps the audience engaged but it’s these heart-shattering moments of reflection that truly resonate with an audience. Maguire’s portrayal of the conflict in Belfast from the perspective of the remorseless wrong-doer rather than the innocent wronged is particularly effective – however Elliott’s script allows all three characters to transform through their brief reconnection with memories of times past.

A central theme of Elliott’s play is loneliness. These men for different reasons are adrift, they are searching for someone, (mostly their ex’s) but more than that it’s a yearn for their prime and potency. In a comic fight between Maguire and Clarke, as two men fall the floor utterly exhausted from such a brief scuffle they both attempt to cover their physical shortcomings; ‘don’t let this cough fool you!’ These two men are tragic figures, once feared and respected to varying degrees, now they are imprisoned to an isolated life of heart attacks, ‘gargles’ and ‘blow’.

While the comedy is sometimes pitched for a cheap laugh, and the metaphors of the piece are blatantly unveiled rather than thoughtfully posed – there is real talent at play. Elliot’s writing is a refreshing look at issues that are all too often at the heart of Belfast theatre, rather than covering old ground he is finding a way to enlighten his audiences to aspects of social problems in a way that is simultaneously entertaining and hard-hitting.

Runs until 5 June 2016 | Image: courtesy of the Lyric Theatre

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