Northern Irish border checkpoints are very much a thing of the past in fact in my hometown they have been removed and replaced with the famous “Tinnies” but I have heard a tale or two about smugglers, fake IDs and altogether more harrowing tales of what happened when the army where stationed on the border. The Border Game by Michael Patrick and Oisin Kearney picks up the tall tales and authentic stories from those who live in border towns and packages these up nicely as a homage to how the borders came to be 100 years ago, with an ill-fated love story thrown in for good measure.
The production tells the love story of Protestant Henry (played by Patrick McBrearty) and Catholic Sinead (played by Liz Fitzgibbon) an estranged couple from either side of the border who meet over the love song of the 90’s; Maniac 2000 when Sinead couldn’t resist Henry’s popped collar (come on, back in the day who could resist the scent of Joop and the strains of Marc McCabe). But don’t be fooled, this is no Romeo and Juilet or Across the Barricades there is no happy ending for this couple because despite the love they clearly have for each other they are damaged, harmed by what they have witnessed on their own side of the border. Traumatic recounts of murders and a childhood lost are interspersed with humour, one liners and personal bombshells. Why did these two star crossed lovers end up in a field with a checkpoint station on the border?
Ciaran Bagnall’s impressive set, sets the tone from when the audience first take their seats with a foreboding background and a few cracks and holes in the rolling mountains, a barbed wire fence and two little mounds of land perfect to give each character there own plinth to emote their side of the tale. The play touches on issues like Integrated Education, the sea border, the Irish Language Act and the Good Friday agreement. It is very much a modern Troubles play. It is not a light watch and it touches quite a few nerves however the authors know exactly when to release the tension with a few laughs; throw in an abandoned washing machine, a heavily pregnant cow and an engagement ring for fabulous laugh out loud moments.
I couldn’t help but feel I’ve lived through some of this, do I really need or want to see it on stage? However the performances by McBreaty and Fitzgibbon are captivating, visceral and with the direction by Emma Jordan they become literally breath-taking they are like fireworks going off in my heart at one point I actually worried about McBreaty’s health as he got so worked up in one particularly painful soliloquy. I cared about these characters and their backgrounds. They were the local boys from the disco in Donegal and the girls we had met on the cross-community trips away. I went away feeling reconciled that I had witnessed something that shone a new light on how we perceive our Northern Irish stories and that can only be a good thing. Well done to all the cast and crew.
Emer D xx
The Border Game runs until Saturday 23rd October in the Lyric Theatre Belfast. For more information go to lyrictheatre.co.uk