Loyal Women

Gary Mitchell
Royal Court Theatre Downstairs

The first Christmas tree of the year is no pantomime. It features the Belfast-based family of the ineffectual Terry (Stephen Kennedy), an Ulster Defence Association man released from prison after sixteen years. The women of four generations of his family live together in disharmony.

Michelle Fairley is very good as Terry's wife Brenda, particularly in a fine closing speech. She is seemingly a brave, strong woman but one with a damning secret. She is a pivotal character upon whom not only the family relies but also the local women's UDA cell.

This set-up allows a combination of story-lines to develop. The strained relationship between Brenda and her mother-in-law, the bed-ridden Rita (Valerie Lilley), is nothing when compared with that with her lazy teenage-mother daughter, Jenny, (Lisa Hogg), a girl with aspirations to follow her daddy into the militia. The verbal jousting can be funny but is rarely moving.

Terry is lost and jealous and gets no thanks from anyone for sacrificing his prime for Queen and Country. His main concern is whether his place in the conjugal bed has been usurped by Mark (Mark McCrory).

The family problems are supplemented by the women's group which is a nice authorial device. We are used to seeing men behaving badly in the name of sectarianism. The gender change gives a fresh outlook even if the women involved are caricatured and can seem like men in drag. This is especially the case in the kangaroo court that is held to condemn an unrepentant, blowsy girl (Sinéad Keenan) caught with a Fenian.

Loyal Women gives a rare (if sometimes surreal under Josie Rourke's direction) glimpse into the frustrated lives of militant Ulster Protestants. Whilst too much of the plotting is contrived, the political message and exploration of forgiveness and futility hold the interest throughout.

This review originally appeared on Theatreworld in a slightly different version

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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