Writer: Alice Malseed
Director: Katherine Nesbitt
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
Surprisingly for a play set in Northern Ireland, Jade City is not about The Troubles, and yet the threat of violence is never far away in this lyrical two-hander by Alice Malseed. In revealing the lives of two Belfast lads, Jade City is a brutal examination of masculinity.
Sas and Monty,both approaching their 30’s, are trapped in Belfast. Unable to get jobs, they sit at home watching Jeremy Kyle, scrabbling around for cash for their tins of Harp, and playing imaginary games. These diversions take them to the Cuba of the 1950s where they become revolutionaries or to London in the 1970s where they live above a pub in New Cross. But in reality, they never venture far from their favourite drinking holes, the working men’s club or the snooker hall.
Barry Calvert as Monty and Brendan Quinn as Sas, both looking very different from the publicity photos, play their roles perfectly; working-class boys, dressed in the scally uniform of trackies and trainers. Their thick Ulster accents add another layer to Malseed’s poetic script, which, overblown at times, never extends beyond the vernacular that these boys would use.
That the two friends are lost and their lives are going nowhere is mirrored in the script which also goes nowhere. To reinforce this idea of imprisonment the action takes place in a boxing ring, but whereas the actors are nimble on their toes, bringing a physicality to their characters, the narrative simply runs on the spot, and each scenario about the lost and broken of the city seems remarkably the same.
It comes almost as a shock when the dark heart of this play is exposed. The lyricism disappears, which gives the secrets a desperate vividness. However, before the audience can process this criminal confession, in a flash the boys are back playing their games, though something has changed between them. Their masculine posturing now seems awkward and childlike.
Jade City could be an excellent and original story about guilt, but the script seems to favour style over content. How does a man deal with the knowledge that he’s committed an awful crime, and how should his friend support him? These are the questions that need to be brought forward, but they almost disappear under the weight of the words that the actors are required to utter.
And yet, there is much to admire in how the boisterous bravado of the boys conceals the workings of masculinity, perhaps more problematic in Northern Ireland with its history of paramilitaries, and now with their absence. Jade City doesn’t shine like the Emerald City in Oz: instead, it’s brittle and sad.
Runs until 10 February 2019 | Image: Contributed