Tinderbox Theatre Company
The Crescent Arts Centre, Belfast.
For over 25 years Tinderbox has been Northern Ireland’s leading new writing company with a commitment and focus nurturing and working with the regions writers, theatre artists and technicians. In light of recent deep and penetrating cuts within the arts sector in Northern Ireland, if companies like Tinderbox hope to survive they will have to find new ways of working if they want to continue to create new, challenging and inspiring work. Under the leadership of new Artistic Director Patrick J O’Reilly, Producer Jen Sheppard and resident Dramaturg Hanna Slattne, the triptych WHAT WE ARE MADE OF, currently running at the Crescent Arts Centre is a brave, vast and impressive statement of intent.
HISTORY by Daragh Carville explores Emma and Declan’s relationship, with rich and tortured performances from Kerri Quinn and Patrick McBrearty; from the first awkward disco dancing moment of attraction as teenagers, through the eve of a new millennium to the break-ups and make ups. Through the form of a warts and all exposé, guided by stage (with an emphasis on the word…) managers, we move back and forth in time, each scene layering upon the next with the characters stepping out to address the audience direct, setting the record straight as they both search and struggle to resolve within themselves the choices made. Carville’s rich and complex play brilliantly navigates us through the funny, euphoric and heartbreaking side of relationships, leaving us to reflect and pause for thought upon our own past, present and future.
As HISTORY reaches its unresolved end, the audience is guided into an adjoining room for HEN, a devised piece between O’Reilly and Slattne. As opera classics play in the background, central to the room is a large yarn of multi coloured wool surrounded by cushions, scattered chairs and diagrams and charts on the floors and walls examining and questioning gender specificity. As the time passes you become disorientated as to whether you are here to watch a piece of theatre or a piece of art installation. When the larger than life trans builder Hen with glimpses of bum crack, played with exuberant joy by Rhodri Lewis, bursts in pushing a wheelbarrow full of rainbow coloured wool, it becomes clear the audience are an integral part of this vibrant piece of interactive installation theatre as it challenges our own preconceptions of gender, why and how we define ourselves and it.
For the final section of this formidable evening of theatre, Niall Rea’s multi adaptive design exercises a coup de theatre as we take a beat to re-orientate ourselves returning to the original space for the beginning of HIATUS. This final, and expansive piece which brings together writing talents from Northern Ireland and Croatia including John McCann, Jonathan Bailie, Vedrana Klepica, and Ivor Martinić is a series of explosive and unapologetic stories. Taking their inspiration from songs and pictures, each feeding and connected shows how these help to define the history of who we are. From the infamous shot of Meliha Vareshanovic walking proudly and defiantly to work in the dangerous suburb of Dobrinja during the siege of Sarajevo, the shorts examine the displacement, desperation and fragmentation that is gripping us globally echoing Meliha’s cry that, ‘you will never defeat us.’
With Nicky Harley vibrantly showing her range and metal coming to the fore, she completes what is a startling ensemble of actors, whether it is debating issues over a unifying cup of tea, fighting over a symbolic coat or living in fear and running for your life whilst noticing the empty spaces at the set dinner table of the family members who won’t be returning.
HISTORY, HEN and HIATUS shows the diversity and muscularity of the creative team behind it, and the impressive score and sound-scape of composer Katie Richardson and sound engineer Ian Jordan only further add to the unifying through line of this bold work.
One cannot help but reflect, as this company bravely and boldly tell the stories that expose the challenging and changing world we live in and our connect to Europe and the wider world, I imagine it also reflective of the struggle for it’s own survival at a time of uncertainty and threat. If this work is representative of Tnderbox’s sheer scale and ambition we can only hope they are able to weather the turbulent times ahead and remain at the heart of Northern Ireland’s creative and inspiring arts culture.