JOYCE MCMILLAN on CAN’T FORGET ABOUT YOU at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow, for The Scotsman, 6.7.15.
4 stars ****
DO YOU SEE what he did there? David Ireland is a hugely talented and sometimes anarchic writer and actor, working mainly between Scotland and his home-town of Belfast; Scottish audiences last saw him in the memorable title role of 21st century gangster thriller Kill Johnny Glendenning, at the Lyceum and Citizens’ last autumn.
In this latest play, though, Ireland tries something different. He adopts and exploits all the classic situations of a well-made modern sex-comedy set against the backdrop of post-Troubles Northern Ireland: the lonely older woman, the randy younger man, the bigoted sister, and the mammy shocked to discover, by farcical accident, that her wee boy’s sex life has moved into what is for her uncharted territory. And then he boldly marches past the comic double-takes and revelations into the serious underlying issues, which he handles with a touch that’s both light and bold, not to say – at times – highly emotional.
So here – in a co-production between the Tron and the Lyric Theatre, Belfast, directed by Conleth Hill – we have the tale of young Stevie, a 25-year-old unemployed graduate in mourning for the loss of his relationship with his gorgeous Catholic girlfriend Ciara when, in a Belfast coffee-shop, he meets 49-year-old Scotswoman Martha. The attraction is instant, and the family ramifications hilarious; the sister, Rebecca, is torn between delight that Martha is – nominally at least – a Scottish Protestant, while the Mammy is simply determined to get Martha out of Stevie’s life.
The overall effect is like a cross between Marie Jones and Mrs. Brown’s Boys, with a touch of Sex And The City thrown in: hilarious, direct, and sometimes unsettling, as the bigotry appears, raises a laugh, and then is immediately challenged, or Rebecca undermines comic assumptions about her mother’s shock at Stevie’s sex life by delivering a pretty serious lecture on the importance of oral sex in gender politics, and in new definitions of love.
Abigail McGibbon is outstanding as Rebecca, the 21st century woman who still can’t forget her love for the old Protestant certainties; Karen Dunbar, Declan Rodgers and Carol Moore are in delightful form as Martha, Stevie and the Mammy. And in the end, we’re confronted with a real rom-com ending, complete with hearts, flowers, and a family dinner; oh, and a quick saying of grace, as if to remind us that beneath the surface, the old religious narrative lives on, into new times.
Tron Theatre, Glasgow, until 25 July.