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  • Review by Andrew Moore

East Belfast boy concludes tonight, don't miss out. Read our review


Twinkling pan-pot melodies pulsate through the deep red hues of the Strand Ards Centre. The stage is lit by what looks like giant versions of the equalisers on a DJ mixing desk as a young man dances through the crowd. He doesn’t look unlike many of the people I spent the weekend clubbing with, the way his sporadic movements find themselves lost in the euphoric groove.

Remember the groove, because it’s important. In fact, there’s just as much emphasis on the impact of the sound as there is on the supremely talented Ryan McParland who is playing out the one man show.

I’m here to see East Belfast Boy - written by Fintan Brady, directed by Emma Jordan, choreographed by Oona Doherty, scored by Phil Kieran and presented by internationally award winning theatre company Prime Cut Productions.

McParland has me encapsulated right from the word go. He has absolutely nailed the stereotypical image of the East Belfast working class. “It is what it is, yknow?”, he says, as he looks directly into the eyes of the crowd. He isn’t shy in displaying the humour, confidence and naivety of his character, as he sits next to a woman in the audience.

“Here love, will we get a picture?”

“It’s all about finding the edge!”, he screams. “What ya are, what yer’ not and what ya could be...”

Suddenly the performance takes a serious twist. The music slows down, the lights dim, and all of a sudden our character has a puzzled, anxious look upon his face.

This is where East Belfast Boy truly comes into its own. It symbolises the reality of the comedown long after the music has stopped. “I don’t even want to see what I see”, says McParland. The pauses between his sentences, when quite visibly distressed, are played out for just long enough that you, as an audience, genuinely start to feel uncomfortable.

More than just symbolising the comedown, at its core it symbolises the unpredictability that many of the East Belfast working class have had thrust upon them as a result of their troubled lives.

There’s genuine hilarity, delivered in a conscious tone, as if it is coming from someone who can only joke about it because they’re actually living that life. It’s this, combined with a deafening reality, that makes East Belfast Boy truly triumph.

Throughout the play we are introduced to a variety of different points in our characters life. We witness him sitting in the dole office, holding his baby girl after an emergency caesarean, suffering from anxiety based insomnia and dealing with his granny seeing ghosts.

It’s the latter that provides the most engrossing moment of the production.

“She has a brother”, he says. “He’s stationed in England, with the army. She looks out her kitchen window and sees him walking down the yard, with his back to her.”

“She shouts, ‘Bobby!’ He stops, turns around, but, by the time she can get the door open...”

McParland is quite clearly choked up at this stage, visually acting the struggle that many of the working class go through when describing their true horrors, having pushed them to the back of their minds through humour, drug abuse and a ‘get on with it’ attitude that has lingered within Belfast since the days of the Troubles.

“Her mums tells her Bobby’s dead. A car crash in Colchester.”

The whole scene is scored sublimely by Phil Kieran. The soundtrack and performance art go hand in hand perfectly, in fact, there’s one track in there, a breakbeat fuelled one, that might be one of my new favourites from Kieran’s extensive, and impressive, back catalogue.

It isn’t just the euphoric elements that Kieran does well. He really comes into his own when it comes to creating a serious tone, manipulating drums to sound like an anxiety riddled heart and conjuring low, echoing drones that frighteningly capture the harsh reality that our character finds himself in.

East Belfast Boy is powerful, thought provoking, achingly funny and painfully sad. It’s an insight into the life of those we may be quick to stereotype, without first knowing their journey. A glance into the euphoric highs and devastating lows of a working class East Belfast Boy.

It is no surprise that Prime Cut who won 4 Irish Times Theatre Awards earlier this year for ‘RED’ have picked East Belfast Boy to bring to the Edinburgh Festival , playing from the 14th -26th August at Bruford College, Summerhall before embarking on an all Ireland tour with this hotly tipped production.

East Belfast Boy appears for one last night at Strand Arts Centre on the 8th August at 8pm.

Tickets cost £8-10. To book call (028) 9065 5830 or visit www.strandartscentre.com/eastside-arts-festival


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