Cyprus Avenue at the Royal Court Theatre
There’s watching something uncomfortable through your fingers, then there’s keeping your eyes completely covered. That’s the effect David Ireland’s provocative play Cyprus Avenue has on the audience when it escalates to a sickening climax.
Following sell-out runs in New York, Dublin and Belfast, the production transfers to the Royal Court Theatre in London for a limited run with original cast member Stephen Rea excellently reprising his leading role as the absurdly paranoid Eric Miller.
Miller is a Belfast unionist with a loathing for Republicans, disparagingly referring to them by their century-old name, Fenians. It’s a word heard about 99 times, so unfamiliar readers are advised to acquaint themselves with the term beforehand. The chief Fenian is Gerry Adams, former Leader of the Sinn Féin political party, who proves central to the plot as Eric becomes a grandfather to a baby girl who he believes is Adams reincarnate.
Daughter Julie (Amy Molloy) and wife Bernie (Andrea Irvine) have long been supportive of the man in their lives following his struggle to reconcile a troubled past with an uneasy future, but their patience finally wears thin when they introduce the five-week-old Mary-May to Eric and he’s immediately distrustful, claiming the newborn is the aforementioned Irish politician infiltrating their home in disguise.
The protagonist’s entire cultural identity is put under examination by himself plus the help of therapist Bridget (Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo), who is notably the complete opposite of him in appearance – young, black and female. Cross-cutting between conversations with Bridget and the delirious saga at home, we see the bizarre actions Eric takes to supposedly ensure his safety, like asking sympathetic criminal Slim (Chris Corrigan) to kill the child. Slim and Bridget offer so much food for thought to the main character that we begin to question if they’re a figment of his imagination, a metaphor for a buried conscience.
Guided by the assured hand of the Royal Court’s artistic director Vicky Featherstone, the actors turn in a masterclass of performance in delivering the shockingly funny words of David Ireland. The play is an exhilarating blast of button-pushing comedy until the third act, where it becomes the most disturbing thing this critic has seen in a while.
There’s a lot to like in Cyprus Avenue, between the darkly humorous intense study of a Loyalist and the performers embodying the drama’s richly drawn characters, but it’s entirely possible that one’s enjoyment is retroactively voided after the distressing finale. Here’s the warning.
Photo: Ros Kavanagh
Cyprus Avenue is at the Royal Court Theatre from 14th February until 23rd March 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.