Reviewed – 5th September
“praise should be given for facing stories of masculine brutality head-on”
Two men circle each other in a boxing ring; they spar, they wrestle, they laugh and, in a sense at least, they fight. The ropes that encircle the ring also encircle their lives, and by the end of performance, it’s clear that those ropes can’t contain them both.
Jade City, cleverly-named for both the local takeaway (with its £3.20 special) and a reference to the proximity of the Emerald Isle, is a two-man show from playwright Alice Malseed. Malseed hails from Belfast, where the play is set, and the whole production resonates with a sense of place. It opens with Monty (Barry Calvert) and Sas (Brendan Quinn) rattling off memories of their hometown. The Goliath crane, the Cregagh, Ormeau Road; cultural and local references which would be bound to strike powerful chords with those who know the city (and, as a nice touch, the Bunker is selling Tayto crisps). This densely-worded production is captioned throughout and in these quickfire exchanges it is invaluable (although at times distractingly serves to highlight deviations from the text, with whole lines missed, that can’t all be deliberate).
As we follow visits to the local, to Monty’s ‘stinking flat’, to the new bar in town, it’s clear that our two characters are knitted into their landscape, but passing references to their past indicate a troubling story. This unfolds, graphically and somewhat predictably, throughout the production. Some of the narrative is delivered via escapist role-plays, as Monty and Sas act out remembered or imagined situations. This is a helpful device, but it feels a bit hard to square the idea of lads who joke about times they’ve lobbed rocks at police and started fights also readily immersing themselves in shared childlike fantasies (‘We’re bin men!’). Given the narrative dwells on the toxicity and dishonesty of masculine posturing, this particular leap feels like a real ask of the audience, although passionate and likeable performances from Calvert and Quinn help.
The Bunker is a simple space in which to represent Belfast’s streets, pubs and clubs but clever lighting (Timothy Kelly) works hard, with strips around the boxing ring starkly setting up the stage and a sickly orange hue invoking the tacky-floored pub. Sound design from Michael Mormecha is also effective.
So many great components, then, but director Katherine Nesbitt isn’t quite able to unite them into a totally winning whole. One challenge is certainly the lyrical but heavy script, which feels like it’d be better served by being read on the page than seen performed. Another is the pacing; billed as a one-hour show, my performance ran 15 minutes over this and this extra time cost us tautness.
Rarely has a production had such a connection to a place; Belfast runs through Jade City like a stick of rock. In this regard, the play excels, and praise should be given for facing stories of masculine brutality head-on.
Reviewed by Abi Davies
Photography by Ali Wright
The Bunker until 21st September
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: