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Rock Doves

Marie Jones
Rathmore Productions
Waterfront Hall Studio, Belfast
(2010)

Production photo

Directed by her husband, the actor Ian McElhinney and featuring their son Matthew McElhinney in one of its four roles, Marie Jones’ most recent play Rock Doves will be a disappointment to those for whom the Belfast playwright will always be associated with the darkly poignant satire Stones In His Pockets.

But then Jones the playwright has always been unpredictable. On the plus side she chalked up, in the early noughties, as well as Stones, Christmas Eve Can Kill You and A Night in November, all worthy successors to her early work a decade previously on Lay Up Your Ends with the Charabanc Theatre Company, an era which first revealed her deft wit and sympathies with society’s underdogs.

But, lest we forget, there were also the duffers, those best forgotten expeditions into the Celtic mists with The Blind Fiddler and Hang All the Harpers, plus the curdling embarrassments of Eddie Bottom’s Dream, A Very Weird Manor and the Oirishing of Gogol’s The Government Inspector.

Premiered almost three years ago in North America’s Irish Arts Centre and set in a derelict top floor room in an inner east Belfast which was, till recently, run like a medieval fiefdom by criminal paramilitaries whose nicknames, addictions to back-entry brutalities, drugs and transvestite club nights fuel Jones’s script, Rock Doves’s moments of magic are drowned in a welter of melodramatic coincidences.

Knacker (Adrian Dunbar) is an aggressive alcoholic nursing a private grief who’ll swap any humiliation for another bottle. Bella (Carol Moore), whom he first met under the railway arches in London, is a onetime prostitute now resignedly running a brothel for the local heavies. The Boy (Matthew McElhinney), bluffing he’s a hard man, is all too obviously a tout on the run, scheduled near the curtain for a brutal death. Lillian (Ian Beattie), a flaky on-stage Tina Turner who’s revealed as Bella’s brother, was, previously, believe it or not, a marine commando.

Young McElhinney can do little but deliver a one note performance to a one note role and Beattie but skates over Lillian’s potential depths. So though David Craig's setting is more than effective and director McElhinney choreographs the quartet with an accomplished conviction which does its best to paper over the text’s absurdities, it is left to Moore’s acerbically comic whore with the heart of gold - and even more to Dunbar’s absolutely barnstorming performance - to rescue the night.

Indeed such is the dangerous charisma of his physically impressive, broad-shouldered Knacker, that it is Dunbar’s articulate and broken urban cowboy with his tooled boots, torn jeans, greasy biker’s hair and scary moustache whose ongoing internal battles, juggling his real and feigned demons, which dominates, from the off, an otherwise unsatisfactory examination of post-Peace Process Ulster.

Reviewer: Ian Hill