Writer: Kate Reid
Director: Gabriella Bird
A good number of the shows at The VAULT Festival are powered by autobiographical elements and focus on the individual; mirco-politics, if you will. However, some shows, such as The 4th Country, are more expansive tackling national politics and institutions. Kate Reid’s new play, about Northern Ireland today, features brave writing examining many of the issues that make the fourth country of Great Britain a foreign country in many ways.
It is the autumn of 2019, and Stormont, the Northern Irish Parliament, is still closed and civil servants are running the country. One civil servant in the department of health welcomes her new intern, but their schedule changes when they are alerted to that fact that a woman has died. With no government, will it be the civil service’s job to manage the publicity? ‘Damage Control’ quips the civil servant sardonically.
In a series of flashbacks we see the events which led to the women’s death. We meet her family too: Her brother Connor, and his girlfriend Anna, the English lawyer who is defending one of the Bloody Sunday soldiers in court for shooting dead protesters back in 1972. It’s a credit to Reid’s writing that she can pack so many topics into an hour that never feels rushed or relies too much on coincidence.
The acting, too, is strong. As Anna, Aoife Kennan is believable as the woman who keeps secrets from her boyfriend. As Connor, Cormac Elliot gives a sensitive performance, though perhaps his character forgives too easily. Rachael Rooney as Connor’s sister Niamh is particularly animated and her scene at the bus-stop with Reid playing Mel the intern provides the distressing spine to a play that never feels as if it is over-reaching.
There are a few postmodern irritations where the actors step out of characters and address the playwright, and, while these do impede the otherwise smooth storytelling, they are, in the main, successful, especially the last scene which is surprisingly moving. The story works best when it is serious as some of the gentle humour earlier on in the play doesn’t quite work and jars against the important ideas within.
With only a few adjustments The 4th Country is ready to travel and with so many representations of a past Ireland in theatre’s repertoire, this very contemporary play is refreshing and challenging. This is a good week for the VAULT Festival.
Runs until 16 February 2020