History is as explosive as any bomb. That’s a fact amply demonstrated in this strident, if low-key, three-hander, set in a Belfast pub during a World Cup qualifier. Owen McCafferty’s script starts on a slow burn – a Polish barman, Robert Zawadski’s Robert, chats inconsequentially to Patrick O’Kane’s hawkish, hollow-eyed Jimmy, a Belfast man who looks haunted from the moment he walks in the door. On the TV, Northern Ireland are playing Poland, but as far as Jimmy is concerned the game hasn’t started yet.
Then Declan Conlon’s Ian enters. Quietly defensive, wearing his leather jacket like a suit of armour, he barely has time to approach the bar before Jimmy walks over to him and headbutts him to the floor. The violence could easily escalate at this point, but the beauty of Jimmy Fay’s production is the sense of the constant repression of lava-hot emotion. No one embodies this better than O’Kane’s Jimmy, who almost implodes as he softly relates how his father died in this pub when the 16-year-old Ian hurled a bomb through the door on his first mission for the Ulster Volunteer Force.
Truth and reconciliation is the great theme of our times. In Northern Ireland it has been given added resonance since the recent arrest and questioning of Gerry Adams for his alleged involvement with the murder and ‘disappearance’ of Jean McConville. What this play shows is the extraordinary dignity that can result when two fiftysomething men revisit the violence they experienced and perpetuated in their youth, and grapple with the fact that they must resist anger to let their lives move on. The torturous difficulty of this is never in any doubt, but nor is its fragile potency. It’s like watching an eggshell try to contain a landmine – a truly remarkable evening.