by St John Ervine
Lyric Theatre, Belfast
Directed by Jimmy Fay
Cast include: Marty Maguire, Katie Tumelty, Darren Franklin, Brian Markey, Karen Hassan and Gerard Jordan.
Reviewed (5th Feb 2013)
It is deeply depressing that the issues addressed by St John Ervine in Mixed Marriage have changed little over a century since its creation and setting in 1911. First performed at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, it was almost two decades before it returned ‘home’ to Belfast is 1929. Mixed Marriage returns to its birthplace as part of the Lyric’s Tales of the City season, which celebrates the 400th anniversary of the founding of Belfast.
A timeless account of the destructive impact sectarianism has on family life and community identities, Mixed Marriage is informed by the 1907 dockers’ strike in Belfast which championed for better wages for the shipyard workers. Ervine’s protagonist, John Rainey (Marty Maguire) is a fearsome, staunch Protestant who is persuaded to make a public show of unity with Catholic colleagues during the strike. His liberalism is short-lived when he discovers that his eldest son Hugh (Brian Markey) is keen to marry Catholic, Nora Murray (Karen Hassan). Ervine uses this domestic conflict and turns it into a political act. Through his characters, be it the passionate socialist Michael O’Hara (Gerard Jordan) or long-suffering wife and mother Mrs Rainey (Katie Tumelty), Ervine presents a range of backgrounds and opinions in one play. Furthermore, he anticipates O’Casey with his Junoesque figure of Mrs Rainey (Katie Tumelty) suggesting that women were models of pragmatic endurance.
The difficulty with Mixed Marriage, is Ervine’s ability to spell out the ideas and intentions of the text so plainly, which allow audiences to stay further ahead of any plot developments than the characters. However, this highly paced production runs the original four-act play in 75 minutes without an interval. Director, Jimmy Fay adds a set of dream sequences which despite Paul Keogan’s atmospheric light and Philip Stewart’s classical score confuse both actors and audience. The Belfast dialect married with Ervine’s language is a rare delight – especially the use of ‘quare’ in almost every sentence. Marty Maguire is excellent as the proud and passionate orangeman. Perfectly matched by Katie Tumelty’s moving portrayal of Mrs Rainey. Darren Franklin as the younger son, Tom provides some of the most amusing interludes in this intense piece of theatre.
Although the Troubles in Northern Ireland may be effectively over, religious divides continue to cleave at communities in Belfast. The recent flag protests and the reemergence of paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland sadly render Ervine’s play tragically relevant over a century later. As the Lyric’s artistic director, Richard Croxford rightly states in the play’s programme, ‘change comes slowly’ and Ervine’s ‘Ulster tragedy’ is a powerful illustration of this.