By Laura Shields, Arts and Entertainments Editor @LauraShields86
On the 40th anniversary of the Ulster Workers Strike of 1974 Jimmy Fay’s latest production of Pentecost in the Lyric recreates the tensions and the harsh realities of Belfast during one of the most significant events of the Troubles. Stewart Parker’s play begins in the home of the recently deceased and devoutly Protestant Lily Matthews (Carol Moore). The house itself not only bridges the Catholic and Protestant divide in a Belfast submerged in the Troubles, but goes someway to bridge the gap between estranged husband and wife Lenny (Paul Mallon) and Marian (Judith Roddy). Lenny plans to sell the contents of the home to Catholic antiques dealer Marian in exchange for her signing divorce papers but complications arise as his ex-wife plans to take up residence in the bomb blasted street.
Set and Costumes director Alyson Cummins is to be applauded for the recreation of Lily Matthews’s home. A myriad of trinkets and carefully placed photographs provide metaphorical warmth in a house plighted by gas and electricity cuts amidst the Ulster Workers strike whilst simultaneously taking us back in time. These trinkets are to remain untouched by Lenny or the other two house guests, Ruth (Roisin Gallagher) the victim of domestic abuse at the hands of her policeman husband or the muesli loving Peter (Will Irvine).
The drama is personal to these characters yet artfully reflective of the state of the Northern Irish capital. Forty years on, this play functions as more than a historic reminder of 1974. Asides from recent tensions in Belfast city, it is the human element which will always remain contemporary. The cold distance between Marian and Lenny is broken by witty remarks paying tribute to Parker’s ability to bring out humour amidst tension. With the hysterical arrival of Ruth however the humour is railed in. The wails and screams that mark her arrival on set are almost as chilling as her revelations of how her husband has beaten her with his police truncheon.
The personal rather than political focus continues with Lenny’s moving speech to Peter about his and Marian’s child who after five months “checked out, he’d seen enough”. Any early humour becomes a ghostly memory. Childlessness comes to reflect the stagnant state of the city. Asides from the acts of violence she has suffered for years Ruth has lost children in a series of miscarriages. Lily Matthews too, felt compelled to give her only child up due to it being the result of an illicit moment of passion with border Alan Ferris. Moore’s performance at this point is haunting. Her screams of “devil” inspire true fear.
The final act of Stewart Parker’s final play takes a markedly religious focus with Ruth and Peter reciting the biblical passage about Pentecost Sunday to each other. Asides from literal biblical quotation, the usually collected Marian shows vulnerability and speaks of her son in religious ways; “he was a kind of Christ to me… He was the future”. As the fourteen day strike draws to a close an air of hopefulness and a sense that there may in fact be a future after all permeates the play.
Parker believed plays to be “ghosts”. Pentecost is a play about haunting. Its characters are literally and mentally haunted by their own ghosts and those of the city but in an act of defiance they chose to live now. A full circle has been complete. The play reminds us now, 40 years on of our own haunting pasts but also of the fact that the glimmer of hope at the end of Parker’s play was more than an apparition.