Tag Archives: Flora Montgomery

Under the Black Rock

Under the Black Rock


Arcola Theatre

UNDER THE BLACK ROCK at the Arcola Theatre


Under the Black Rock

“This is ultimately an excellent play still in the works. With a lot of fine-tuning and a few cuts, it could be devastating and magnificent.”


All the elements are present for potential brilliance in this brutal story about the inner workings of the IRA, but due to a combination of some strange production choices and a slightly baggy script, it doesn’t quite come together.

Looking back at the chaos and turmoil during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, Under the Black Rock highlights the messy blend of contradicting motives, lack of trust and inevitable in-fighting that took hold. Following the story of the Ryan family, we see how each member is torn apart, and their fates remoulded by actions of the IRA.

The performances are generally strong, and thankfully no-one’s struggling with the accent, which would have been wildly distracting. We begin and end with a rendition of The Dubliners’ Grace sung by Jordan Walker, which might have come across as beautifully mournful if Walker’s voice wasn’t so musical-theatre-ready. Instead, it feels a little saccharine in an otherwise grim and violent tale.

It’s a pleasure to see such a full cast at the Arcola, where one or two-person plays generally hold court. But for some reason, despite having eight people on stage, director Ben Kavangh has chosen to cast two main female roles with one actress, Flora Montgomery. Playing both the calm, head-strong IRA leader Bridget Caskey, and mother of the Ryan family, Sandra Ryan, she’s forced to play the roles to extremes, slipping between characters by merely removing her burgundy trench coat to reveal an oversized pastel cardigan. Where Bridget is understated and powerful, Sandra must inevitably be week and pathetic. At some point Sandra is referred to as “cool under fire”, but we don’t get to see any of that, because it would too closely resemble Bridget. Instead, her performance of Sandra is inevitably overwrought and wet.

Perhaps because this is loosely based on a true story, there’s a bit too much crammed in, and some of the main plot points are only glanced at. The death of Alan Ryan (Walker), for example, is only discovered in a later conversation, and I don’t think we ever hear how he actually died, which feels important given how it goes on to shape the rest of the story. Similarly, the fate of Fin McElwaine, also played by Walker, is only mentioned later, and the details never really explored.

Ceci Calf’s design sees a massive volcanic rock looming over the stage throughout. It’s effectively oppressive, if a little on the nose. The thrust staging isn’t quite used to full advantage, with a lot of the action taking place very close to the front, and long speeches given with backs turned to half the audience. It’s fine to bring the action so close if there’s enough movement, but so much of the script requires performers to stand their ground, quite literally.

This is ultimately an excellent play still in the works. With a lot of fine-tuning and a few cuts, it could be devastating and magnificent.



Reviewed on 6th March 2023

by Miriam Sallon

Photography by Gregory Haney



Previously reviewed at this venue:


The Game Of Love And Chance | ★★★★ | July 2021
The Narcissist | ★★★ | July 2021
Rainer | ★★★★★ | October 2021
L’Incoronazione Di Poppea | ★★★★ | July 2022
The Apology | ★★★★ | September 2022
The Poltergeist | ★★½ | October 2022
The Mistake | ★★★★ | January 2023

Click here to read all our latest reviews


Devil With the Blue Dress – 2 Stars


Devil With the Blue Dress

The Bunker

Reviewed – 4th April 2018


“The fuse of a potentially explosive evening remained unlit”


There was a buzz around The Bunker Theatre last night for the world premiere of Kevin Armento’s new play Devil with the Blue Dress. In 2018, with Trump in the White House, on the back of one of the most divisive US elections the world has ever seen – one in which deep currents of misogyny were exposed within the American electorate – the time seems ripe for a political play re-examining the events of the Monica Lewinsky scandal twenty years ago. Similarly, at a time when women across the globe are again challenging patriarchal power, it seems right to have this story told by an all-female cast. Unfortunately, the promise of the piece is undermined by the lack of theatrical imagination in this pedestrian production, which even the beautifully played live saxophone underscore (credit here to the saxophonist Tashomi Balfour) failed to invigorate.

The play opens with Hillary (Flora Montgomery) drawing our attention to the nature of theatre, and to the nature of the narrative we are about to witness. She says ‘theater [sic] is the art of the impossible’ which sets the expectation for a creative theatrical language which this production notably lacks. The play is dialogue heavy and physically static, and despite the energy of some of the performers, most notably Kristy Phillips as Chelsea and Daniella Isaacs as Monica, this most turbulent tale never feels truly alive, and would have benefitted from the skills of a good movement director. Flora Montgomery was well cast as the whip smart and emotionally controlled Hillary, though her moment of breakdown felt curiously detached.

All in all, the considerable talents of the cast felt underused, and the characters felt constrained rather than released by the writing. Dawn Hope as Betty, and Emma Handy as Linda, clearly had more to give performatively than this script and its realisation allowed them, and it seemed somewhat ironic that, when given their voice, four of the five female characters spent much of their time speaking the words of the President. Similarly, the chaotic cacophony towards the end of the second act – ‘the four of you, clawing, and conniving, and deceiving each other’ as Chelsea describes it in the script – belittles the complexity of these women’s collective experience in a way that runs counter to the exposition of their story.

Towards the beginning of the second half of the play – Article Two: Obstruction of Justice – Linda says ‘if you look past all the scenery and the subterfuge here … this is just another story of mammalian urges’. And that is indeed what we were left with – another unedifying tale of a powerful adulterer. The larger dramatic canvas was left unexplored, and the fuse of a potentially explosive evening remained unlit.


Reviewed for thespyinthestalls.com

Photography by Helen Murray


Devil With the Blue Dress

The Bunker until 28th April



Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com