The Hen and Chickens Theatre
As we are taking our seats, an army man, Gary (Tiernan Mullane) is sitting tied and hooded to a chair. I am not quite sure where and when it started but the past few years have seen a trend for plays to have their cast on stage and in character before the show begins – but I admire the commitment to hood and tie one of your actors pre-show.
The digital programme for Behind Closed Walls (available via QR code) lays out a timeline for an alternate future in Northern Ireland where a hard border has come to the island and what has come to be known as ‘The Second Troubles’ is in full swing. The programme brings us to a point where a British Army recruit has been kidnapped by The Real IRA. The play then takes up the story. A voice-over montage adds both historic and fictional news reports to the timeline as Shea (Eoin O Dubhghaill) enters to interrogate Gary. He’s been sent by his unseen Real IRA bosses to find out information on the current operations of the British Army.
The two back and forth over their different beliefs and different backgrounds… except it turns out their backgrounds may not be so different and there is a connection between them that neither could have imagined. Both Mullane and O Dubhghaill are strong with good chemistry together, especially as the story develops and their relationship changes from adversaries to something else. We learn more about each of them and the reasons they have ended up in this room together. The far-fetched plans they come up with to get themselves safely out of first the room and then the country allows for some comedy and a somewhat surreal sword fight, which amused all.
Writer/director Daryl J. Blair has put a lot of thought into an alternate future, but it seems perhaps unnecessary. The core story could be set anytime during the troubles and the only loss would be a couple of Brexit-related lines along with a re-shifting of the nostalgia references the characters share. The pacing is slightly off with some beats rushing ahead where a moment or two to land or dial them in would have been appreciated. That said, the script is often tight and with compelling dialogue that presents a very believable relationship between the pair despite their significant differences.
All of which means that while Behind Closed Walls is good – it also feels like a work still in progress. At the end, Blair mentioned that they hope to be taking the production on tour. With its more than promising central premise and a good cast, I would certainly be interested in revisiting this down the line as it settles in a little more.
Written, directed, produced and designed by: Daryl J. Blair
Behind Closed Walls played as part of Camden Fringe at Hen and Chickens.
The show will be playing at Jack Studio 25 – 29 October. More information and bookings here.