Jade City at the Bunker
First seen in London as part of The Vault festival earlier this year, Jade City is a two-hander that focuses on Belfast boys Monty (Barry Calvert) and Sas (Brendan Quinn). The friends feel trapped, angry and dejected with their lives and are forever distracting one another with their fantasy “games”. Whether it’s pretending to be bin men or even seagulls at one point, these yearnings to become someone else and to gain escapism from reality are two prominent themes. Male mental health and suicide, as well as sexual assault, are also explored. Through Calvert and Quinn’s energetic performances and writer Alice Malseed’s ability to transition the tone like a light switch, we are also provided with a number of laugh-out-loud moments.
Placing the action within a boxing ring emphasises the men’s desperate fight for freedom and personal happiness. The sense of being trapped certainly radiates out from the confined and simple set.
With only two bar stools on stage, it’s up to the actors to use their physicality under Jude Quinn’s assured movement direction and it is through this that we are granted some of the funnier moments. Brendan Quinn in particular executes some humorous facial expressions and movements when playing one of their games, but also uses these skills in a completely different way when confronting his friend about the heinous crime we learn he committed. This and the closing scenes are without a doubt the most poignant, with Calvert exuding emotion in a powerfully controlled way. This is in contrast with the energetic momentum he manages to keep up throughout the majority of the play, bouncing around the ring like an actual boxer and appearing every bit the stereotypical lad. The on-stage friendship is convincing, with the actors feeding off one another well and both investing their all into the performances.
The language of Belfast is easily decipherable thanks to the dialogue appearing on screen throughout. Every performance will be captioned in this way. Seeing the words on screen as they’re being spoken also adds another dimension to the play, with some particularly poignant moments really hitting home, impossible to miss. Michael Mormecha’s sound design aids the more upbeat scenes whilst allowing the final, moving climax to carry the impact it deserves.
In spite of the emotive performances and energy levels of the actors, for much of the hour-plus runtime there is a slight feeling of meandering, with certain situations or ideas repeated and overly lingered on. Perhaps this was Malseed’s intention as it contributes to the sense of monotony that’s so prevalent in these character’s lives, but it certainly drags down the pace at times and the play could certainly lose some of the fantasy scenes. This is the major issue with the production: it does pack a punch, but ultimately it’s not as hard-hitting as it might have been.
Photo: Ali Wright
Jade City is at the Bunker from 3rd September until 21st September 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.