Blinkered: Powerful, resonant, relevant

Patrick McBrearty and Gemma Walker play brother and sister Ryan and Stella. (Picture Gav Connolly)
Patrick McBrearty and Gemma Walker play brother and sister Ryan and Stella. (Picture Gav Connolly)
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Suicide is not a subject many would consider bringing to the stage or screen, but Sole Purpose Productions has never shied away from hard-hitting subject matter.

And you would be hard pressed to find a more relevant subject matter locally, with too many local families and communities all too familiar with the devastating impact of suicide.

‘Blinkered’ by Patricia Byrne delivers an unflinching portrayal of the raw grief, emotional devastation and unanswered questions that haunt those left behind.

An outstanding cast sees Patrick McBrearty take the lead as young local lad Ryan, who is hoping to pursue his dreams of a career as a musician while struggling with social isolation, lack of opportunity, the loss of his grandfather and ally in life, alongside the expectations our ‘get a job’ society places on the young.

The writing here, the interaction between family members and the monologues, is sharp, well informed and well researched.

The set design of a typical Derry home meanwhile adds to that sense that this could be the house you grew up in; this could be your family, your brother, your son, your friend.

McBrearty gives a searing performance as his character tries to navigate the encroaching dark as his mental health deteriorates and he withdraws from the world around him.

Gemma Walker, meanwhile, is perfectly cast as Ryan’s sister Stella. Like many Derry siblings, the two banter and bicker but are very close, and some of the most heartbreaking moments in the play revolve around the silence that hangs in the air between their chats as Stella seems to begin to sense all is far from well with her brother.

The siblings’ loving but overworked parents , Anna and David (played ably by Cathy Brennan Bradley and Pat Lynch ), helps reaffirm the sense of a normal family life.

In several scenes, the shallow chit chat between McBrearty and Lynch lays bare the awkwardness that often exists between men. They talk on football, not feelings. There is a gulf there, an awkwardness that neither seems to have the language to bridge.

The same exchanges also show how throwaway comments can prove devastating.

Brennan Bradley delivers a powerful performance as a grieving mother who has lost her child and is left with a stream of unanswered questions and torturous ‘what ifs’.

The cast deserve full praise for taking on such difficult and complex roles and delivering such competent and convincing performances. Writer and producer Patricia Byrne and director Shauna Kelpie, meanwhile, have again proved that Sole Purpose is one of the most resonant and relevant theatre companies operating today. - Brendan McDaid

*The Lifeline helpline is open 24 hours a day for anyone of any age living in the north and is free of charge on 0808 808 8000.