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Review: Cyprus Avenue

Review: Cyprus Avenue

Review: Cyprus Avenue cover photo on Stagedoor
Is extreme prejudice a form of psychosis? It’s a question raised in David Ireland’s 'Cyprus Avenue' which takes its name from the leafy Belfast Street immortalised in Van Morrison’s 1968 album, Astral Weeks.

But for Cyprus Avenue resident and Ulster loyalist, Eric Miller, all is not well. The world he knew and loved is changing in the wake of the Peace Process. His daughter Julie tells him: “We have to move on. Northern Ireland is a different place now.” It is, and Miller doesn’t like it. The certainties that he has clung to all his life are crumbling as fast as his own craggy-featured face.

Stephen Rea plays a blinder as Eric, a man so blinkered by his own prejudices that he becomes convinced that his tiny granddaughter Mary-May is in fact former Sein Fein president Gerry Adams disguised as a new-born baby. He even draws a beard on the child with marker pen and perches Build-a-Bear toy glasses on her nose so that others can spot the resemblance he sees so clearly.

Photos by Alastair Muir.

His wife Bernie (Andrea Irvine) and daughter Julie (Amy Molloy) refuse to be persuaded, but UVF man, Slim (Chris Corrigan, cracking) seems convinced that Mary May is indeed the Fenian devil who has infiltrated Miller’s protestant family to destabilise the Union. If, of course, Slim exists and isn’t just a figment of Eric’s crazed mind. This is 90 minutes that plays with many kinds of delusion.

There are plenty of ghosts that lurk in the shadows, some from history and some more recent. There is an exquisite scene on a park bench between Miller and his daughter in this adaptation of Vicky Featherstone’s Royal Court production which was filmed for The Space. The on-location filmed sequences create a terrific sense of place making the scenes filmed in the theatre ever more claustrophobic.

This is dark stuff, like the most appalling and bloody Greek tragedy that you can imagine reframed as a bad-taste comedy. In the Lieutenant of Inishmore Martin McDonagh wrote the ultimate satire about Republican terrorism and the way extremism and prejudice infect and warp. Ireland’s play might be seen as the flip side of that concentrating on loyalist identity and a unionist mind so under siege it runs amok destroying all it holds most dear.

Like Ireland’s controversial Ulster American, this is a real shocker and one in which bubbling laughter dies on your lips. The framing device in which Miller talks to a young black psychiatrist (Ronke Adekoluejo) and the use of flashback isn’t elegant, but it is effective, and the spiralling insanity of the situation is neatly handled by Featherstone.

As for Rea, he is just astonishing as Miller. His eyes seeming to burn and then retreat in his collapsing his face as he is forced to confront his own madness. “Without prejudice we are nothing,” he proclaims. It’s a prejudice that turns him into a ticking human time bomb. When he detonates it is lethal and unbearable to watch.

Don’t click to stop watching at the curtain call but watch to the bitter end as the stage managers start to clear up the wreckage. Somebody always has to deal with the debris of history. Sometimes the cleaning up takes decades or centuries.

You can watch Cyprus Avenue in full here.

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Written by

Lyn Gardner

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