Bold Girls

Citizens Theatre,


Until February 10

Reviewed by Mark Brown

THE recent news that UVF "supergrass", and confessed multiple murderer, Gary Haggarty had received a sentence of just six years in prison seemed like a nasty reminder of a bygone conflict. However, as Rona Munro's 1991 play Bold Girls reminds us, it's only two decades since the Good Friday Agreement was signed and Northern Ireland's uneasy peace process initiated.

Set in predominantly republican, Catholic west Belfast, the drama follows a group of four working-class women living in the shadow of war. Their men, as matriarch Nora comments bleakly, are "either dead or in the Kesh" (a reference the Long Kesh RAF base which was redeveloped as the notorious Maze Prison for convicted paramilitaries).

The action of the play takes place in the home of Marie (widow of a slain republican paramilitary) and in a local nightclub which is prone to raids by the RUC. Marie and her neighbours, mother and daughter Nora and Cassie, seem like a microcosm of an archetypal "close-knit community". However, behind the "nipping across the road for a cup of tea" bonhomie of the women, there are dark secrets, terrible fears and unfulfilled yearnings.

All of this is expressed by Munro with a sharp, observational eye, dark comedy and a sense of heightened realism. The result is a piece which falls somewhere between soap opera and sitcom.

As it segues between an Irish, female version of Coronation Street and a Hibernian Royle Family, the play is given an element of suspense courtesy of the arrival of Deirdre. A bedraggled teenager, she inveigles her way into Marie's house under cover of a conflagration with the British Army that has broken out on the Falls Road.

The barbed naturalism and gallows humour of the drama are utterly convincing, as is the brave-faced vulnerability of women besieged by the emotional depredations of the absurdly named "Troubles" and the material hardships caused by the conflict. Likewise, Cassie's desperation to get out of Northern Ireland before her domestically abusive husband gets out of prison.

There is, however, a structural heavy-handedness in the play that stretches one's credulity and undermines the tension within the piece. Even if one is prepared to accept the implausible ease with which Deirdre gains access to Marie's home, one can only be disappointed by the blatant conspicuousness with which, from early in proceedings, Munro signposts her big, conclusive "reveal".

Which is a pity, as director Richard Baron's production is admirably sure-footed and humane. Neil Haynes's designs, complete with a moveable set for Marie's sitting-room-cum-kitchen (which floats cinematically into view), draws purposefully on the hyper-realism within the play itself.

The cast are excellent to an individual. Lucianne McEvoy, in particular, is utterly compelling as Marie, whose anguish goes much deeper than her bereavement. Deirdre Davis is every inch the long-suffering mother, trying desperately to keep her daughter in-line with the community's expectations of her as a dutiful Catholic wife.

This is a strong revival of an often engaging play. It's just a pity that, at its crucial moments, Munro's storytelling is so lacking in subtlety.