A riff on nationalism with deep resonances

North Star
Arts Center Project
★★★★

Rough Magic interrogates the 1798 Rebellion in their production of Stewart Parker’s 1984 play. Parker, writing from Belfast at the height of the Troubles, takes Antrim man Henry Joy McCracken as the protagonist and, through a brilliant mix of real-time and fantasy time-lapses, explores the months leading up to his death, by hanging in July. 1798.

The play is rich in theatrical metaphor and director Lynne Parker enriches the self-awareness of the dramatic style by continually disrupting the theatrical illusion. The opening stage directions are read in full, the actors share the roles regardless of gender, and Zia Holly’s set, filled with potential props and discarded trash, becomes a playground for the characters to piece together. key scenes. Joan O’Clery’s costumes draw on a contemporary register, with the exception of the symbolic green coat of the United Irishmen, which becomes a talisman for McCracken (played by Paul Mallon with an almost luminous idealism).

Many flashback scenes are acted out in pantomime form, with ensemble cast members Eleanor Methven and Rory Nolan, in particular, standing out as innkeeper Peggy Barclay and gun-wielding Dublin gurrier Gorman.

However, the real-time scenes between Mallon’s McCracken and his lover Mary Bodle (played with pragmatic passion by Charlotte McCurry) carry emotional weight that Parker could have used to greater effect.

North Star is a messy and chaotic riff on nationalism, whose resonances with contemporary commemorations of the 1916 uprising are subtle but profound. It’s not always an easy play to watch or follow, but Rough Magic has carved something beautiful and moving out of its scattered structure.

  • Until May 7, then Lyric Theatre, Belfast, May 17-29