Under the Black Rock ★★★★ Arcola Theatre | March 2 - 25, 2023

Against the backdrop of Ceci Calf's dramatically simple set, playwright Tim Edge presents a tale of tangled family and political relationships. The time is 1979, and it's the height of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Suspended above the characters throughout the play is a large black rock representing the ominous reality of Belfast. It's threatening presence in the minimalist environment stands in stark contrast to the complexity of the machinations of a cell of IRA operatives who are caught up in a vortex of loyalty and betrayal. This is a well-acted and engrossing piece with lots of clever twists and unexpected turns. Evanna Lynch is excellent as Niamh, the ignored daughter who follows her father's path into the IRA, and Jordan Walker is alternately touching as her naïve brother, Alan, and terrifying as the psychopathic Fin. In her dual role as their well-meaning mother, Sandra, and the callous cell leader, Bridget, Flora Montgomery is equally strong. Elizabeth Counsell is a delight as the dotty Mary, who turns out to have another side, and Matthew Blaney offers a chilling portrayal of the fanatical Jimmy. No one is what they seem in this dark piece which is brilliantly lit by Joseph Ed Thomas' subtle lighting design. Under the Black Rock exposes how the simplistic views of terrorism lead one into a murky world where ideology and strategy horribly trump humanity. The parallels with contemporary political events is obvious. At the end of the play, Niamh emerges from that shadowy world she has inhabited and in a harsh, clear light reflects: “Deception, rage, betrayal and all for peace. I never understood it.” Under the Black Rock offers some incisive political insight woven into an intriguing thriller.

Rated: ★★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Photo by Gregory Haney.

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