Review: Cyprus Avenue, Royal Court - David Ireland's absurdist, existential comedy packs a grim bite
It is a superb play and one that can be cogitated over and debated but which in a perverse, bloody way is also highly entertaining.
Cyprus Avenue at the Royal Court has long finished its run but it's such an extraordinary play that I wanted to get some thoughts down as I didn't get a chance to review it at the time.
It's not an easy piece to describe but if I was pinned down I'd say it is an absurdist, surreal, existential drama and pitch black comedy set in Northern Ireland.
Unionist Eric (Stephen Rea) thinks his baby granddaughter looks like Gerry Adams which sparks an intense internal debate about who he is.
Therapy session and flashbacks
The story and the nature of his inner turmoil unfold during a therapy session with a black psychologist Bridget (Ronkę Adékoluęjo) with 'flashbacks' to key events.
Eric begins to unravel questioning his beliefs, his Britishness and history, his unionism and much more besides.
He identifies as British but is referred to as Irish by the mainland dwelling Brits. He is of a generation where gender roles were once distinct and diversity was a binary choice between Catholic and Protestant.
His little world has had solid boundaries within which everyone knew their place - and their prejudices but these are being challenged.
Cyprus Avenue is also the story of how Eric ended up in a consultation room with a psychologist.
Initially, he presents as ordinary, mild-mannered and bumbling, the challenges of the changing landscape presented through casual racism and sexism and blunt sectarianism.
Slowly we see how Eric deconstructs, revealling a dark and messy side which manifests in a number of disturbing acts.
Humour in the darkest moments
Ireland intercuts humour in the darkest moments, some of latter had the lady next to me looking down in her lap with her eyes covered.
Cyprus Avenue isn't a play for the faint-hearted, it is challenging, at times difficult to watch and disturbing - as well as being very funny.
Eric is symbolic of the struggle and dangers when identity and established norms are challenged.
Dark recesses of the human psyche
He may also represent the darkest, ugliest recesses of the human psyche realised.
At one point Eric imagines a conversation with a unionist soldier, does that put everything else in his head?
It is a superb play and one that can be cogitated over and debated but which in a perverse, bloody way is also highly entertaining. I'm giving it ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.
I'm sure it will come back to the stage at some point in the not too distance future and if you appreciate plays of the ilk of Clybourne Park and Downstate then I'd definitely grab a ticket when it does.
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