Tag Archives: Mike Robertson

On McQuillan’s Hill


Finborough Theatre

On McQuillan’s Hill

On McQuillan’s Hill

Finborough Theatre

Reviewed – 6th February 2020



“all credit to the Finborough for once again recovering a work of such significance”


A pulsating rhythm and elegant lyricism pervade the English premiere of the unsettling and darkly comic “On McQuillan’s Hill” at the Finborough Theatre.

It causes a double-take because the content of Joseph Crilly’s 2000 play is far from calm and tranquil – indeed, the politics and passion behind its Northern Ireland setting would make one expect something more explosive.

But in this well-observed work everything is far more subtle, with tension simmering beneath the surface as six characters meet in an isolated community hall in rural Ulster after an IRA prisoner is released under the Good Friday agreement. It’s a drama where the shadow of sectarian violence somehow sits comfortably alongside news of a farmer who has grown a record-breaking cucumber.

The play was first performed at the Lyric Theatre, Belfast, 20 years ago and it is unbelievable that such a truthful, ravishing and sometimes savage drama should have taken so long to cross the Irish Sea. So all credit to the Finborough for once again recovering a work of such significance.

An essentially uneasy domestic melodrama focussing on the Maline family slices into deeper themes of the bitter aftermath of the Troubles, malignant family history, sexuality, incest, guilt, betrayal and the legacy of ultimately futile conflict.

It’s an astonishing blend of brutality and beauty and while London may not fully comprehend the boldness and courage of that original Belfast production it’s hard to miss a rumbling contemporary resonance even as hard borders and political impasse hit the headlines.

Every character is distinctively painted in the text but director Jonathan Harden and an exemplary cast explore even greater depths to the always three dimensional roles. Behind the near mythical ambience there lie utterly credible characters. These are never less than real people with genuine lives and backgrounds.

At its heart are members of a dysfunctional family who in another world would be the subjects of a soap opera. Johnny Vivash is terrifically grizzled as the less than successful terrorist Fra Maline, a closet homosexual keen to find out why he was betrayed by former colleagues and more interested in rekindling a relationship with his ill-suited yet loyal lover Dessie (an edgy Kevin Murphy) than with his sister.

It is his sister Loretta (an emotionally charged Gina Costigan) who has bought the hall intending to convert it, but her reappearance after 20 years lifts the lid off a tureen of dark family secrets, including the long-questioned parentage of daughter Theresa (a charming and fiery Julie Maguire).

Into the mix comes the ex IRA commander Ray (a stirring and passionate Declan Rodgers)whose personal life trumps political ideology, while hovering in the background is formidable hall caretaker Mrs Tymelly (a quietly forceful Helena Bereen, who was in the original 2000 production).

Harden comprehends the unlikely humour and harsh undercurrents of this story, allowing the honesty of both story and performances to take centre stage.

The set (Norman Coates) is every inch the community hub of the past, destined to be pulled down, testimony to a discomforting past, with dimming bulbs and the detritus of past celebrations. A sombre portrait of Irish nationalist leader Robert Emmet gazes down from the wall, a reminder of past hopes and lost causes.

“On McQuillan’s Hill” still has the capacity to shock but this quality revival never loses sight of the human stories, a knowing sense of humour, and the beating heart of a nation seeking a new chapter in a troubled history.


Reviewed by David Guest

Photography by Bronwen Sharp


Finborough Theatre

On McQuillan’s Hill

Finborough Theatre until 29th February


Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Beast on the Moon | ★★★★★ | January 2019
Time Is Love | ★★★½ | January 2019
A Lesson From Aloes | ★★★★★ | March 2019
Maggie May     | ★★★★ | March 2019
Blueprint Medea | ★★★ | May 2019
After Dark; Or, A Drama Of London Life | ★★★★ | June 2019
Go Bang Your Tambourine | ★★★★ | August 2019
The Niceties | ★★★ | October 2019
Chemistry | ★★★ | November 2019
Scrounger | ★★★★ | January 2020


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Sex / Crime

Sex / Crime

Soho Theatre

Reviewed – 22nd January 2020



“the energy on stage is palpable and infectious”


A PVC backdrop. Deep red sofa covered in plastic. A tray with two needles sitting poised for action. Banging music rings in your ears. The stage is set for a dark and disturbing evening that will question where pleasure ends and pain begins. A queer “American Psycho”? A messy murder mystery? The show in question is “Sex/Crime”, Alexis Gregory’s startlingly original new play returning to London at the Soho Theatre.

In thickly lyrical prose, “A” (Jonny Woo) and “B” (Gregory) meet in a mysterious room in a city in turmoil. Paying good money to have famous gay murders recreated on his body, “B” is prepared to be submissive, to give himself up to death and pleasure. “A”, offering him punches and slaps for a pre-arranged price, is clinical in his approach. But talk turns to “Him”, to the world outside, to love, to passion. “A”’s professional demeanour breaks down, and it isn’t long before the men’s roles take a surprising turn.

Woo gives an authoritative performance as “A”, his size bringing a unique presence to the low-ceilinged Upstairs theatre at Soho. Gregory is his ideal counterpart. Built with the shoulders of a bodybuilder, “B” is a high-pitched Londoner, almost camp, his movements precise and words even more so. Together, they make an excellent double act. The comedy rarely stops, and the references are topical. At one point Woo references EU regulations on breaks: “I’m holding on to those as long as I can” he notes, witheringly.

Directed by Robert Chevara, the two figures dance around each other, playing with distance and proximity with shocking effect. Movement is precise, pointed and poised. If things seem a little hyper-active, it matches the high octane, high adrenaline situation (not to mention all the drugs). Rocco Venna’s set leaves a strong impression in the imagination and Mike Robertson’s lighting design sees an almost clinical light beam up at the actors’ faces throughout. It’s certainly unsettling and gives those blackouts an added touch of menace.

The final third was where I started to wane, and the script seemed to lose a little bit of focus. What seemed grounded in a specific, yet unfamiliar, reality, falls away, making the final moments of twisting and turning a little less potent. Gorgeous as the finale of montages is, I wish it ended as punchy as it started.

This audience was in bits though, and hung on every moment. With strong leads and an even stronger sense of style, “Sex/Crime” is certainly an enjoyable spectacle. Dark comedy drips from the ceiling like PVC sheets and the energy on stage is palpable and infectious. As a new piece of writing, Gregory’s voice shines and is certainly one to keep an eye out for. “Riot Act” is still one of my favourite shows in recent years, and I can only wait with anticipation as to what original idea strikes Gregory next. In the meantime, do check out this explosive and surprising show while it’s here.


Reviewed by Robert Frisch

Photography by Matt Spike


Sex / Crime

Soho Theatre until 1st February


Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Tumulus | ★★★★ | April 2019
William Andrews: Willy | ★★★★★ | April 2019
Does My Bomb Look Big In This? | ★★★★ | May 2019
Hotter | ★★★★★ | May 2019
Citysong | ★★★★ | June 2019
The View Upstairs | ★★★ | July 2019
It All | ★★★ | August 2019
The Starship Osiris | ★★★★★ | August 2019
What Girls Are Made Of | ★★★★ | September 2019
Fitter | ★★★★★ | December 2019


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