Old Red Lion Theatre
The Christmas carols and the tinsel are juxtaposed against a man lying on his side with a plastic bag over his head and blood on his clothes. Welcome to Portadown, Northern Ireland, the setting for Christopher Hanvey's play, Justice.
This is an emotionally run down town where drug laundering is the focal point of a rather depressing place. A member of The Loyalist Volunteer Force, Pinky McCrea's (played confidently by Nick Storton) plans on expanding 'his drug empire' while Chris Carson, (played with conviction by Christopher Hanvey) The Ulster Volunteer Force member, thinks he can stop it. Chris Carson is on a journey to discover that the truth about the people he knows and loves is hidden behind a thick fog of unsuspecting lies, and it is often the people closest to him that let him down.
The cast give it their all and their energy is high, but there is lack of attention to scenographic detail. The oversized dinning table, used to represent Pinky McCrea's restaurant, was set too close to the audience entrance. This not only emphasises the disproportion between the set and the playing space of the theatre, it also was not a convincing choice to persuade the audience that Pinky's restaurant was, "the best thing in Portadown". (Unless that is the irony?)
There also was a lack of detail in most of Hanvey's characters, making them quite cliché and uninspiring. It is directed by a promising Jessica Hrabowsky, who utilises the space and transition of scenes with ease and also plays Susie Taylor, the very trashy prostitute. Apparently Susie is not a, "slag", because she gets "paid", highlighting yet another uninspiring female role within Christopher Hanvey's bleak play.
Technically there were some brilliant and believable moments of stage combat, the gun shots were powerful, even the blood was the right shade of dark red to make you feel like you are witnessing real brutality.
This close up in-your-face style of acting was made believable by Hanvey, Storton and Leon Bearman, who plays Stevie Davidson, the misogynist drug dealer and murderer. In fact I felt extremely uncomfortable watching Stevie beat up Danielle Stephens (played very naturally by Francesca Dymond), the pregnant fiancée of Chris Carson. The relationship between Danielle and Stevie is one of the ugliness of dependency.
This is something unsettling about the play, as there is no sense of the possibility of escape, making Justice quite claustrophobic and monotone. However, Valerie McCrea, Pinky's rather chatty wife, (played with bag loads of energy by Sharlit Deyzac) tries to lighten things up with a joke here and there and an intoxicating laugh.
Both the script and the acting have an air of naturalism associated with TV drama, highlighting the tone of angry young men syndrome, (but not being too sure what they are angry about. Too often anger is just an excuse to course chaos which I feel that Hanvey's play successfully illustrates.) Hanvey, a self proclaimed Political Writer, explains, " when terrorists can no longer be terrorists they become 'gangsters'." This idea is especially pertinent now in a time of fear about terrorism and one cause of terrorism being the perceived disenfranchisement of young men. The overdose of male testosterone in Justice only ever tells one story and that is of a very male dominated and frustrated underworld where men take centre stage, and where the women never speak to each other.
Reviewer: Lennie Varvarides