Quick Q&A: Good Gracious Good Friday

Where and when: White Bear Theatre, 16th-18th October

What it’s all about… Good Gracious, Good Friday takes place in Belfast, Northern Ireland on the night of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement referendum result, as four (mostly hungover) twenty-somethings come together to use the historic occasion as an excuse to drink all over again. Although they claim they have no interest in the “boring news on the telly” as the evening draws on – their true feelings for their country, and each other, will be revealed. This is a nostalgic look back at a huge turning point in Northern Ireland’s history, with Game Boys and Tamagotchis thrown in for good measure!

You’ll like it if… you’re interested in The Good Friday Agreement which has been mentioned so much whenever Brexit is on the news. It’s been the main sticking point in the current negotiations, particularly when it comes to the matter of the Irish Border. Our play explores why the 1998 Good Friday Agreement was such a monumental event in Northern Irish, and U.K. history and what it meant to a younger generation who strived for peace – a generation who were knee deep in a late 90s cultural explosion of Britney Spears, Titanic and Supermarket Sweep – so yeah, they had all that to deal with too…….

You should see it because… the Good Friday Agreement has never been more prevalent than it was over 20 years ago. The very essence of Brexit brings into disrepute the good work so many British/Irish/American politicians set out to do, which was to bring peace to the island of Ireland. Just yesterday (14th October 2019) a Northern Irish citizen named Emma De Souza was told she could not claim her Irish citizenship – something The Good Friday Agreement set out to make possible in our time, and further beyond. Our play sets out to show how important The Good Friday Agreement was to Northern Ireland in 1998, and how it remains just as vital to the country, The Republic of Ireland and The U.K. today.

Where to follow:
Twitter: @GGGFPlay

Book here: www.whitebeartheatre.co.uk/whatson/Good-Gracious%2C-Good-Friday

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Review: Jade City at the Bunker Theatre

Written in response to the governmental neglect that’s left a lasting mark on the city and people of Belfast, Alice Malseed’s Jade City is a troubling two-hander exploring mental health among young working class men. Unemployed, skint, and with little to strive for or look forward to, friends Sas (Brendan Quinn) and Monty (Barry Calvert) have devised their own way to escape: The Game. Stepping out of their dull, uninspiring lives, in The Game they can be whoever and go wherever they want – fighters in the Cuban Revolution, guests at the Plaza in New York, seagulls soaring high above the city – and for a brief moment they can revel in their newfound freedom, be it financial, political or physical.

Photo credit: Ali Wright

But Sas, who at first glance appears to be the younger and less worldly of the two, has decided it’s time to grow up. He can’t stop thinking about a real-life incident that happened a while back, and he wants to stop playing and start talking – if only Monty would listen. As the story of that night comes out piece by piece, the play takes us down some dark paths, with references to depression, suicide and sexual violence, and a harrowing conclusion that’s left wide open to audience interpretation.

The interaction between Barry Calvert and Brendan Quinn is at first entertaining, then thrilling, and finally deeply uncomfortable to watch. With the action carefully contained by director Katherine Nesbitt within a boxing ring set that’s a literal representation of the guys’ surroundings and simultaneously hints at an impending conflict, the energy between them ebbs, flows, and ultimately mutates into something that feels toxic and dangerous – and not just for them.

As much as the play highlights the many barriers to opportunity faced by young Northern Irish men like Sas and Monty, it’s also something of a love letter to Belfast itself. Amidst the banter, Malseed’s script is often gloriously poetic: a celebration of the language, culture and atmosphere of a city that for so many people, even twenty years after the Good Friday Agreement, still brings to mind only unrest and division. There’s the sense of a community, albeit a dissatisfied one, in the familiar faces who hang out at the local working men’s club to drink their troubles away, and for all the characters’ escapist fantasies, it’s obvious that in reality they can’t picture themselves anywhere else.

Photo credit: Ali Wright

To ensure we don’t miss a word, captions are used throughout – and while these are certainly helpful at times for deciphering the characters’ Northern Irish accents, their inclusion feels as symbolic as it is practical: you get the sense that Sas and Monty are merely acting out a story that’s been written for them, and which for any good intentions they might have, can’t now be avoided.

The play was inspired by two shocking statistics: one third of people in Northern Ireland live on or below the bread line, and there have been more suicides in the last two decades than there were deaths during the Troubles. Behind those numbers are real people like Sas and Monty, who’ve grown up in the shadow of a period in their country’s history that they don’t even remember. The play asks for our understanding, if not quite our sympathy – some of these young men’s actions are unforgivable, regardless of their circumstances – and sends us away with a final image which, however you choose to read it, is unlikely to fade any time soon.

Jade City is at the Bunker Theatre until 21st September.