The History of the Troubles (Accordin' to my Da)

Martin Lynch and Grimes & McKee
Tricycle Theatre, Kilburn
(2003)

If somebody had decided to update Sean O'Casey's Shadow of a Gunman and had enlisted the assistance of Salman Rushdie, Marie (Stones in his Pockets) Jones and the Reduced Shakespeare Company, they might have ended up with The History of the Troubles.

This is a slightly odd and sometimes uncomfortable mix of faithful history of the troubles in Belfast over the last 35 years, the life of a man called Gerry Courtney (well played by a very straight faced Ivan Little) and some comedy, both verbal and slapstick.

It seems likely that the first two elements were provided by playwright Martin Lynch while the comedy is both written and acted by Grimes & McKee. This is set within David Craig's montage of recent Irish history both photographic and painted. On top of all of this contemporary music is used to flesh out the story.

The play starts in 1969 as Gerry awaits the birth of his son in a maternity ward. There he meets his main sidekicks, Fireball, a mortuary attendant and inveterate darts player, and Felix. He also finds out about the start of what appears to be a little bit of rioting and insurrection that will probably last 24 hours but turns out to be the commencement of 35 years of hell.

As a memorial to the tragic lives of West Belfast Catholics over this period, The History of the Troubles has a great deal to offer. On a national level it brings in characters such as Jack Lynch and Bobby Sands - not to mention Margaret Thatcher who somehow managed to unify the two sides in their hatred of her. We are also reminded of many events including the commencement of internment, the formation of Citizens' Defence Committees that prefigured IRA membership for so many, the sad attempt at power-sharing without power and the peace movement that promised so much hope.

All of this is very worthy and fascinating both to those who remember the events and also to those for whom they are pure history. They are given a human dimension by the reactions of the haemorrhoid-suffering Gerry and his friends to events as they evolve. The boys try to become the first pacifist members of the IRA and generally go about their business shocked by but ignoring many of the historical events going on around them.

There are some genuinely touching moments, in particular the death of Gerry's University-educated teenage son. Whether this needed the Rolling Stones' 19th Nervous breakdown to introduce it and cheapen it is more questionable.

It appears that having got this far, the producers decided that history was not enough. Around this framework, two quite talented stand-up comedians, Messrs Conor Grimes and Alan McKee, weave their brand of Irish humour. This does not always sit well with the events going on around it. Happily, it is genuinely very funny a fair amount of the time.

The mix of history, human heartache and comedy ensures that this play will have a wide appeal and its location at the Tricycle, so often home to Irish writing, means that it is likely to be a box-office success. Whether it might have been better to write two separate plays from this material is another matter.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher