The 4th Country
The Vaults (crypt) Leake Street
The rumbling political crises of Northern Ireland (the fourth country) have largely gone unnoticed in the English media, except of course as a complication, in whatever the latest Westminster deal is on Brexit.
Yet, those crises could at some point turn into a storm, so it's important that, of the many hundreds of plays showing in London during the period of the Vault Festival, there is one trying to give us some insight into the situation.
The 4th Country imagines the way the burning issues of abortion rights and the Bloody Sunday campaign for justice intersect in 2019. But they begin with an apology. In this show, there are going to be no fiddles, no Riverdance, nor any other of the typical Irish stereotypes that so often clutter the London stage. (Think of the National Theatre’s My Country and the award-winning The Ferryman.)
Instead, we shift back in time from the September 2019 panic in a civil servant's Stormont office over the expected media frenzy about the death of the character Niamh, a woman relative of a Bloody Sunday victim, to several months earlier when Niamh (Rachael Rooney) is sat discussing with another woman the difficulties of them continuing with their pregnancies. They certainly couldn't have an abortion in Northern Ireland where it was at that time effectively illegal.
The latter scene is extraordinarily moving, believable and brings home the cruelty of denying a woman the right to control what happens to her own body.
Although that story alone would be ambitious enough for the sixty-minute running time, we also get the English partner of a member of the woman’s family, Anna (Aoife Kennan), generating family conflict by agreeing to be the lawyer defending soldier F, the only alleged participant in the massacre of civil rights protesters in Derry in 1972 to go on trial. But as Anna explains, “I don’t see victims. I just see loopholes.”
This powerful play is occasionally amusing, always well performed, sharply written and if that wasn’t enough it is also very entertaining.
Of course, as of 21 October 2019, abortion in Northern Ireland is decriminalised, though without any realistic access to abortion in that part of the UK, the position of women did not immediately improve . As one of the women in the play explains, it’s no easy matter to say to your anti-abortion friends and family that you are suddenly taking a trip to England without raising suspicions.
Reviewer: Keith Mckenna