To Be Sure
Lyric Theatre, Belfast
Previously, as voice overs advise in the world of television series in which this author also works, Tim Loan'es Hogarthian Caught Red Handed satirised the top of the food chain members of Northern Ireland's right wing Protestant Democratic Unionist Party headed by "Papa Doc", the Reverend Dr. Ian Paisley, plotting on the eve of an election for the Province's Stormont Assembly.
Now, on the evening of very day when Ulster's electorate trudged wearily, yet again, to the polls, even-handed Tim presented a not dissimilarly surreal vision of Gerry Adams' Sinn Fein through the medium of the dysfunctional west Belfast Power family not all of whom have embraced the Peace Process as their bearded leader so enthusiastically - we are told - embraces trees.
The Da, Joe Power, played by panto regular Paddy Jenkins, is an incompetent impotent low-level hood, converted to peace and love to all men. Nuala McKeever, familiar as a stand-up comedienne who targets the pretensions of socially aspirational Calvinist women, is Joe's wife Marian, given to wrapping herself, metaphorically and physically, in the tricolour flag of the Irish Republic.
The effervescent Martin McCann is Liam the youngest son, a tearaway who'd love an ASBO as a symbol of his opportunist crimes. Michael Condron, an actor with excellent comic timing, is elder son Thomas, known locally for his sexual relations with a duck. Voice over and musical comedy practitioner Rachel Tucker is daughter Grace, the white sheep of the family, discovered courting a copper.
But it is a given that sequels are never easy. Sure, To Be Sure, directed by the author, opens with an excellent visual gag, the entrance of a limping Thomas bearing an electric drill, a joke which implies he's been knee-capped by the Provisional IRA with Bosch's best. But then there's then a turgid lacuna where naught happens bar a flat extended parody of Catholic's making the Stations of the Cross at Easter.
In fact this is dull stuff till the robust entrance of that robust actor Dan Gordon in one of his multiple robust roles, that of the good cop, bad cop. Finance for the new police force is so low, he explains,one constable has to deliver both versions.
Luckily for all, Gordon is a thesp whose presence - as copper, out of control IRA enforcer, toothy Sinn Fein boss with familiar linguistic tics or a bulky lubricious female bodyguard - has the audience laughing before he even moves or speaks. Then each of his alter egos, for reasons as improbable to explain as the frantic sequence of trouser dropping of a Brian Rix farce, are murdered by the various Powers only to be stuffed in the downstairs loo, a joke well borrowed from this play's predecessor Caught Red Handed.
Though Loane's plot doffs its often amusing hats as much to Alfred Jarry, Dario Fo and Joe Orton as to Feydeau, Spitting Image and the local way-past-its-selling-date one-joke political television sitcom Give My Head Peace, his directorial role simmers down to little more than lining up the Powers in a crescent before they declaim, scamper amongst decapitated heads exploding in the microwave and dodge hails of police bullets.
Amongst the longeurs of Ms McKeever's brassy tirades, when one longs for a straight actress to take over this central role, there lies a wealth of excellent, if sometimes familiar quips, plus a host of visual gags. Both of which will improve through the run. So, while To Be Sure will never be the "green" response to the "orange" delight of Caught Red Handed, ditching the first fifteen minutes would benefit all concerned. But then which author, when handed the directorial baton, will reach for the blue pencil as well?
Reviewer: Ian Hill