I’ve Always Liked the Name Marcus

Matthew Sharpe
Tinderbox Theatre Company
The Mac, Belfast

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Matthew Sharpe in I’ve Always Liked the Name Marcus Credit: James Ward
Matthew Sharpe in I’ve Always Liked the Name Marcus Credit: James Ward
Matthew Sharpe in I’ve Always Liked the Name Marcus Credit: James Ward
Matthew Sharpe in I’ve Always Liked the Name Marcus Credit: James Ward
Matthew Sharpe in I’ve Always Liked the Name Marcus Credit: James Ward

Matthew Sharpe’s I’ve Always Liked the Name Marcus at Belfast’s The Mac for the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival taps into the age-old Northern Irish dilemma of identity. Except here it’s not the well-worn tropes of religion and politics, or the emerging debate on the region’s stages about sexuality, that confound him.

Instead, in a rather slight autobiographical monologue performed by Sharpe himself, the issue is one of race. Born in Northern Ireland to an Irish mother and Jamaican father and with a Mediterranean skin-tone, the titular would-be actor Marcus is brought up short when rejected in an audition for not looking sufficiently Black.

For someone whose teenage years were consumed by identifying with media-led representations of Black masculinity—rap artists, basketball players, video game heroes and weight-lifting lords of the gym all get a look-in—the rejection causes Marcus to retrace his steps and interrogate his own sense of who he is.

The self-analysis that follows feels rather more like a putative stand-up routine, the visual bells and whistles of director Patrick J O’Reilly’s imaginative staging never quite compensating for Sharpe’s relative inexperience as a writer and performer.

Sharpe’s script is appreciably honest, likably self-deprecating and witty (the trumping throw-away last line deservedly getting the evening’s biggest laugh), although it struggles to connect his own experience to wider concerns.

His performance is hampered by a lack of technique—cotton wool diction and delivery lacking in clarity often rendering lines unintelligible. First night nerves may well explain and excuse that indiscretion, and there is no denying his committed physicality or his cheeky charm and easy-going rapport with the audience.

I’ve Always Liked the Name Marcus is the latest in a spate of compact, issue-led one-person plays, notable among them Declan Bennett’s Boy Out the City, Diona Doherty’s Sunny Side Up, Amanda Verlaque’s This Sh*t Happens All the Time, Ruairi Conaghan’s Lies Where It Falls, Alice Malseed’s The Half Moon, Clare McMahon’s I Am Maura, Paul McVeigh’s Big Man, Richard Clements’s How to Bury a Dead Mule and Gilly Campbells’s Father the Father.

Admirable though the trend is in addressing private issues overlooked in the public maelstrom of green and orange politics in the region, the increasing prevalence of one-person shows also speak to the abominably parsimonious levels of arts funding in Northern Ireland, under imminent threat again of more cuts.

Just as worrying are problematic new funding criteria that risk corralling theatre makers into unintended tokenism that will likely do precisely the opposite of what is intended. It’s a point adroitly framed by Eoin Robinson’s video design, complete with scrolling pages of funding application criteria detailing the prescriptive obligations on theatre-makers. And rightly the butt of a slyly knowing joke here.

A dénouement foregrounding the murder of George Floyd and the resulting Black Lives Matter movement feels somewhat shoe-horned in and glancing, well intentioned and apposite though it is.

Reviewer: Michael Quinn

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