A review of ‘Over the Wire‘ a play which blew me away and which recently showed at The Playhouse.
The mere presence of a looming prison cage where the stage should be immediately set a foreboding atmosphere in The Playhouse.
Seamas Keenan’s reimagined ‘Over the Wire’ has been on a journey since it first opened in Derry in January 2013 at the beginning of the City of Culture celebrations.
Set in Long Kesh prison after the main building was burned by republican prisoners in 1974, five men live out their existence in an outdoor barbed wire cage.
Kieran Griffiths was the new director for this production, and the cage also had a new ‘Commanding Officer’ in the shape of Gerry Doherty.
Audiences had a choice. They could either sit in the standard tiered seating or ‘in the round,’ knees almost touching the steel structure. From here the audience has a privileged and very close viewpoint, trying not to flinch when any sudden violence crashes into their comfort zone and rattles their side of the cage.
There’s a huge political backdrop, but only the small world of the cage exists. With frustratingly little news from the outside, the men struggle for power and knowledge. There is an increasing damaging paranoia which becomes a main theme in the play.
The relationship with each other is all the men really have left, yet suffers greatly as hunger and fear, pain, humiliation and distrust take their toll.
The audience is uncomfortably close and uneasy, and the prisoners can never relax. Anything could happen next, they are constantly on their guard and buzzing with adrenaline which can almost be felt through the bars.
Keenan’s script contains much black humour which is somehow seamlessly incorporated into the action. The mood swings from tentatively laughing and ‘slagging’ to heart-stoppingly tense and dangerous in seconds.
The performances from the Derry actors was phenomenal. Pat Lunch, Gerry Doherty, Martin Bradley, Micheal Mc Callion and Andy Doherty play the prisoner’s roles.
Andy plays Dutch. the newest and youngest prisoner, cocky but with a touching innocence. Martin portrays Barry struggling with psychological problems, while everyone questions the medicine ‘the screws’ are giving him.
Pat Lynch plays Lucas, the swaggering, scary top IRA man who nobody can talk down with chilling results, and a mesmerizing performance.
Some of the most human moments see the men huddled under a plastic sheet to keep warm, taking turns singing, admits hopes and desires, speak of home. (Which is Derry!)
When one character rounds on the other is when the play take’s it’s darkest turn, despite the army beatings. The fear of the characters, their inability to escape their situation or each other is transferred to the too-close-for-comfort audience.
The proximity to the cage put audience members at risk of being hit by distrusted food or even splashed with blood.
It’s a play that is a triumph, a whole new experience and will stay in the mind long after the cage has returned to darkness.