The 4th Country, VAULT Festival

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by Meredith Jones Russell

Often misunderstood, neglected and under-reported, Northern Ireland is just across the water but can often feel a million miles away. Kate Reid’s new script tackles this issue with a powerful and compelling look at real-life, contemporary Northern Irish stories.

Featuring four actors, including Reid herself, the play is structured in four short acts, held together by the actors slipping out of character and arguing over the way the stories should be told. The ensemble cast works together well, with Rachael Rooney particularly affecting in her portrayal of Niamh, switching from dry humour to aching sadness with ease. They are particularly reluctant to tell the final, fourth part, for reasons that only later become apparent.

This device serves to remind us that the interlocking stories of the play (a young intern’s first day in Stormont’s Department of Health, an English barrister who has moved to Belfast for her Northern Irish husband, a brother and sister whose family has been touched by tragedy, and two young women meeting at a bus stop) are being presented in a very deliberate way, and told by one specific playwright, one voice.

Voices are at the heart of the play, which derives much of its comedy from flitting in and out of accents, and the stereotypes which come from cultural difference. For a largely English audience, the reality on which the stories in the play are based is one that is rarely told in Northern Irish accents by Northern Irish people. And indeed, they are rarely told at all.

Each individual scene could do with some tightening up in places; there are moments when the pace drags slightly as the piece gets bogged down in words rather than driving the story along, but the final twist is clever and the play’s last five minutes pack an emotional punch that will stay with you long after the final bows.

The 4th Country runs through 16 February.

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