Under the Black Rock - Arcola Theatre
Tim Edge’s debut play opens at The Arcola
Belfast, during the height of the conflict. Shrouded figures sit under a precariously hung and threatening boulder, strung up to the ceiling by thick rope. A looming sense of dread is ever present through Tim Edge’s thrilling new play, questions of who you can truly rely on are consistently asked as characters fear betrayal and defeat. With some quality performances and a strong debut script, this is a striking look inside The Troubles.
It was not unpredictable that following the death of her brother in custody that Niamh (Evanna Lynch) would follow in the footsteps of her father in finding her place in the conflict, transitioning from innocent and inexperienced recruit to capable and cold soldier involved in catastrophic events. Edge’s play is a compelling exploration of the time but struggles in managing the scale and timeline of the story. Multiple twists and turns ensure the piece is unpredictable, but the dramatic espionage conclusion fails to wholly satisfy, as the breadcrumbs bringing the audience along were not laid effectively.
A neat ensemble performs Edge’s words. Evanna Lynch’s Niamh is quietly defiant in the face of her ruptured family, carefully picking her battles to maximise her impact. Lynch is fairly cold and conservative in her portrayal, retaining Niamh’s emotion internally - effective, but I would have liked to see more. Notably, Matthew Blaney does well as Jimmy, notably in the interrogation scenes, utilising strong physicality in his performance whilst Elizabeth Counsell is charming and witty as Mary, doing excellent work in masking a darkness beneath innocuous humour. The remaining cast do great work in telling this story as a cohesive unit though at times the performances cried out for a tad more variety in their delivery - too many scenes descending into shouting matches.
A particular highlight in this production is Joseph Ed Thomas’s lighting design. The striking and aggressive lighting created a perfect backdrop in the intimate Arcola space. Red light blasting through the haze captured the mood of the piece perfectly. As previously noted, Ceci Calf’s design includes a boulder hanging above the scene, a direct nod to the name of the play, forming an ominous mass representative of the piece.
Whilst a worthwhile topic and a fine debut play, there is significant room for improvement here. A few more drafts and a few more rehearsals could refocus and elevate this production further, enabling it to deliver the impact it has the potential for. A little polish here and there would go a long way - but still a good night of theatre.
Running till 25 March - Tickets
Photography - Gregory Haney