Wednesday, February 11, 2009

"Defender of The Faith" - February 2009

The Tron's Artistic Director Andy Arnold brings us Stuart Carolan's study of an IRA cell haunted by suspicions of an informer in their midst. Set in 1986 at the height of 'the Troubles' it would be easy to dismiss as having little relevance or interest - but this isn't about the politics, it's about the people.

The first act that introduces us to the family at the centre of events suffers from teetering towards "Father Ted" territory as it plays up the humourous interactions between the characters - and the overuse of profanity for cheap laughs doesn't help matters. However, Callum Munro gives an assured performance as younger brother Danny, providing an intriguing insight into the clash of British/Irish cultural influences he faces on a daily basis.

For me, even when Martin McCardie's informer-finder-general arrives the tone remains fairly light and we don't quite get the sense of fear that we should, although Waldorf was more convinced by his quiet menace. But then the play shifts up a gear and for the next forty minutes is finally firing on all cylinders. The informer's confession is handled fantastically well, and the confrontation between father and older son Tommy (Lewis Howden and Martin McCormick) is one of the most tense moments I've had in a theatre for some time. Credit also to fight director Carter Ferguson for what I think was the most sickening on-stage violence I've ever witnessed.

And had the play ended at that point I'm not sure if I'd have sat in stunned silence or given a standing ovation - it had that kind of impact on me (although Waldorf was considerably less taken with the evening). But neither of those things happened. Inexplicably, to my mind, there is one final scene left to play out - the sole impact of which was to diminish the power of the previous scenes.

I'm still grasping for an overall sense of what I thought of the evening and I think it probably comes down to this - a strong production of a not-so-strong play.

Defender of The Faith runs at the Tron until February 28.
Note: In some performances the role of Danny is played by Jan Plazalski.
Image by Richard Campbell used with permission.