Royal Court Theatre – Cyprus Avenue

Art and politics

Some people think that art and politics are two separate notions and have no connection whatsoever. Whereas, others would agree that art is often used as a means to express political viewpoint, oppression, aggression, and even indifference. On the day, the Brexit deal was voted against the third time, I am writing about the play that tells a story of an ordinary man, who was led to self decay and degradation through political extremism.

Theatre

The first theatre on the site was a converted chapel that opened in 1871 and was called The New Chelsea Theatre. It was remodelled and renamed in just one year the Court Theatre. The theatre showed plays, novel adaptation and farces. First theatre was demolished in 1887 to be replaced in 1888 by the present building named as the New Court Theatre. By the end of the century the name was changed to the Royal Court Theatre. George Bernard Shaw’s works were often performed at the the Royal Court at the beginning of the 20th century. The theatre went out of use in 1932 and was converted into a cinema in 1935. Royal Court closed down in 1940 after it was hit by a bomb during the Blitz. The theatre was reconstructed and reopened in 1952 and became the home of the English Stage Company (ESC), producing new British and foreign plays, together with some classical revivals. ESC focused on creating a writers’ theatre, to discover new writers and produce serious contemporary works. The theatre staged many controversial contemporary plays by British, as well as, international playwrights. In addition to the 400-seat Theatre Downstairs, the much smaller studio Theatre Upstairs was added in 1969. In 1996, the Royal Court Theatre received a grant of £16.2m to rebuild most of the building, except for the original facade and the auditorium. The theatre reopened in February 2000, with the 380-seat Theatre Downstairs, and the 85-seat studio Theatre Upstairs. The Royal Court Theatre continues to stage new plays by local and international writers.

Plot

Play starts at a therapy session, which Eric Miller seems to be attending  against his will. He is a Belfast loyalist, “non-negotiably British”, and has a certain idea of how Britishness is defined. He is surprised to hear that his therapist, Bridget, calls herself British, though being of Nigerian descent. At the session Eric has flashbacks, telling a story that eventually led to his taking these therapy sessions. We find out that Eric used to be an active unionist, fighting against IRA, defending the Union Jack and the United Kingdom. But in the time of peace he lost his self, lost the purpose. Eric has this deep routed hatred towards Catholic Irish, fenians, as he calls them, though he mentions many times that he does not hate fenians. He remembers the time he visited London and a lot of people took him as Irish, because of his accent. He loved being Irish for a day, though felt disgusted the following day. Eric realises that the time has erased clear distinction between the Irish and the Unionists and no one really cares whether he is a Protestant or a Catholic. This poses a serious challenge to his mental health and he starts having hallucinations. He is 100% sure that his grand-daughter, Mary-May, is Gerry Adams, the Leader of the Sinn Féin political party, born in his family to mix fenian and unionist blood. Eric tries to convince his wife and daughter that Mary-May is Gerry Adams, but his wife asks him to leave the house. Eric finds refuge in the park, where he meets Slim, another unionists with a dream to kill a fenian. Slim is just a part of Eric’s imagination and even he refuses to believe that the baby is Gerry Adams. So Eric decides to execute what he thinks is right for the Union. He kills his daughter and wife, then to kill his five-week old grand-daughter, whom he sees as Gerry Adams. Back in the therapy room Eric still thinks that Mary-May was unquestionably Gerry Adams and he did what was right for the Union.

Production

Cyprus Avenue was written in 2016 by David Ireland and was first produced at the Royal Court Theatre. The play got transferred to The Public Theatre, New York, Dublin’s Abbey Theatre and The MAC Belfast and returned to the Royal Court for a limited run.

Director:      Vicky Featherstone

Producer:     Royal Court Theatre

Casting:         Amy Ball

Sloane Square, London SW1W 8AS

Ticket

Bought my ticket directly from the Royal Court Theatre website. The season got sold out pretty soon, but I was checking the tickets almost every day and managed to get a returned ticket. £36 for an on-stage seat. I think the seat speaks for itself. The stage is quite small and I felt I was part of the performance.

Running time is 1 hour 35 minutes

 

The Theatre Rat

 

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