Edinburgh Fringe Festival
★★★★★ (out of five)
Until August 25
ONE of the theatre highlights of this year’s Fringe begins with a Polish barman setting up a Belfast pub for a World Cup qualifier between Northern Ireland and Poland at Windsor Park.
The game throws up a number of significant narratives between Robert, the barman played by Robert Zawadzki, and bar patron Jimmy, a simmering Patrick O’Kane, who quietly sups at the bar while questioning Robert’s sense of belonging. Something Jimmy – a 52 year old Irish Catholic – has struggled with all his life.
But when Ian (Declan Conlon) enters the bar the jokey patter dissolves, traded for an atmosphere of impending doom.
After a short burst of violence the two men circle each other.
It emerges that Ian and Jimmy are both the same age and that during adolescence their lives were shaped by a tragedy that has haunted them ever since. Now, in the name of “truth and reconciliation”, both will attempt to understand the other.
In 1974 Ian became involved with the UVF and planted a bomb in a Catholic pub where five men were meeting to watch the football, seeking a few hours of distraction from the woes of Belfast life.
Jimmy – whose father was among them – talks of that community of lost men, who boasted a certain kind of working class masculinity, while articulating the various facets that existed among the group.
Some were single, some had families and they had varying occupations, contexts and significances beyond being “Catholic” or “Fenian”, he argues, proclaiming ultimately that they were human beings with a right to live.
Both men have had to live with the events of 1974. Jimmy, who is not really a football fan, frequents the same pub where his father was killed to watch the sport as a way of remembering him.
More significantly he reveals the pain he has had to live with and further hidden secrets to the man that caused his woe. He wants him to know that he lost not only his father but also his faith on the day of the atrocity.
What future both men might have left rests on a subtle quiet handshake.
The audience go with them on that journey, but we are left asking as many questions about modern Belfast as we are about the horrific events of the past.