Derry’s Playhouse premiered its Legacy funded production ‘A Bag for Life’ this week - and simply put, it is an exceptional piece of theatre that will stay with the audience long after the house lights have come back up and the seats have emptied.
Penned by author, screenwriter and former journalist Colin Bateman - the play takes the audience deftly through every emotion possible until it’s breath-taking climax (no spoilers, I promise!). But more than that, it forces the audience to ask a lot of questions of themselves. What is forgiveness? As a society, how far have we really moved on? At what cost has peace come to our country? And how far can we be pushed by grief?
It’s hugely important to state, categorically, this play is not an hour and 15 minutes of navel gazing and introspection about the legacy of the Troubles - far from it. But the premise does arise out of our troubled past. Now 35, Karen - a wife, mother, teacher with happy and content existence is suddenly plunged into turmoil during that most mundane of tasks - the Saturday morning shop in Tesco.
A chance encounter with Michael McAllister - the man who killed her brother 23 years previously - sends her into a spin that the audience will follow over the course of the next hour.
Now released, under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, McAllister has made a full and seemingly happy life for himself. A life, as Karen tells the audience, that her brother will never have. This meeting triggers something in this ordinary woman and she sets about plotting a revenge of sorts, while dealing with her renewed grief and anger over the death of her big brother. She tries, repeatedly to find forgiveness but the rawness of the loss of her brother - 22 years old and shot in the face - becomes stronger as the story builds.
This is a play which is deeply moving. It is darkly funny - very funny in places. It is a story of madness, revenge and grief. And is brilliantly told.
The scripting by Bateman is outstanding. It is believable, near the knuckle in places, entertaining and disturbing. Brought to life on stage by Belfast actress Julie Addy in a performance that wows. Her depiction of Karen’s descent into madness is powerful and raw with emotion.
While these two elements in the production would be enough to make it stand out from the crowd, it is the direction, staging and production of this play which lift from the ordinary to the tour-de-force it became.
For 2013, Derry’s Playhouse took in in-house producer and director Kieran Griffiths who has pushed the boundaries in theatrical production since then. His work - along with his team at the Playhouse - certainly push the boundaries of staging in this production.
During the course of the play, more than 400 digital images flash on a number of white screens - the only dressing on the stage. These allow for digital interaction between Karen and a number of characters. They add another element, a deeper, more raw element to the show than if Addy had been alone on stage delivering her lines.
This is not a show for the faint hearted. It opens with strong language and ends with strong language. But it is an important piece of theatre and if you can get out to see it, then I strongly recommend you do.
For this reviewers money it is one of the strongest pieces of theatre ever produced in Derry - and a worthy Legacy funded project. I have no doubt that it shall stay with me for a long time.
A Bag for Life will continue to run at Derry’s Playhouse until Saturday, April 9.