Brian Friel said, in an interview in 1973, ‘Very often an accident in history will bring about a meeting point, a kind of fusion for you. And this is what happened. This is a play about poverty.’ As we pass into the second week of Mountview Postgraduate Director’s Season, we see another politically driven play focusing around a small number of individuals. ‘The Freedom of the City’ was first performed in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, the year after Bloody Sunday. A staunch defender of Irish Civil Rights, Friel had marched with the crowds on the day of the murders and his play has become known as one of the most important about the troubles in Northern Ireland. Although Friel’s play takes an extremely polarised, even sectarian view, there is no denying its power and touching sensitivity.
‘The Freedom of the City’ is set in 1970, focusing on a fictional story of 3 individuals taking part in a banned but peaceful protest. They have taken shelter in the nearest and safest building available: The Guildhall of Londonderry. And more specifically, the Mayor’s Parlour. Outside, chaos and paranoia reign down on the streets as the British Army opens fire on the crowds. From them we skip to the present, to an inquest about their killings. The production, directed by Lilach Yosiphon, involves 3 multi rolling actors: Emma Deegan, Kyle Fraser and Darryl Oakley. The best scenes of the performance are the ones inside the Guildhall, the tense banter as the protesters help themselves to a few ‘well earned drinks’ whilst developing relationships and newly discovered revelations about the characters are even more interesting when contrasted with the biased views of those holding the inquiry. Although there are a few slightly amateur elements – slow motion, revolutionary air punching for one – it’s a well directed production with some excellent moments, including a short and brilliant musical interlude.
Deegan, born in Northern Ireland herself, plays Lily, a mother of 11 and one of those trapped in the Guildhall, as well as the Judge conducting the enquiry. She slips between her roles with relative ease, creating distinct and believable characters. Fraser also keeps his characters from merging into each other, playing the young and troubled Skinner as well as the brigadier who commands of the forces that killed him. Although Skinner’s alternating angry/camp routine becomes wearing towards the end of the show, Fraser is a charismatic young actor. Between the scenes of ‘revolutionary’ defiance and torturous inquest, Oakley plays Professor Cuppley, an American analyst of the Troubles, talking about poverty and the class system. It is in these scenes that the audience is most likely to doze off. Oakley’s delivery, of what is an understandably difficult set of speeches, is too monotonous and some of the key elements of the play – that of the role of poverty in the Troubles – are understated. He makes up for it with his other parts though and puts in fine performances in all of his other parts.
‘The Freedom of the City’ is both a biased and poignant work and Yosiphon’s production deals with its complications in a very mature way. With some superb performances and a lot of amusing, if upsetting, moments, it remains riveting, moving and very watchable.
Have a look at the rest of the shows in Mountview Postgraduate Director’s season here: www.mountview.org.uk/shows/shows/postgraduate-directors.html or have a look a the rest of our reviews.