Theatre review - The 4th Country

KATE Reid’s engaging play opens in September 2019 in Stormont’s Department of Health with Shona (Aoife Kennan), the deputy director, interrogating her new intern Mel (Reid).

On learning of the shocking death of a young woman, Niamh Fitzgerald, Shona shares her file with Mel. They’ve just started talking about “damage control” when Niamh’s brother Connor (Cormac Elliott) storms into the room.

At this point, Rachael Rooney, the actress playing Niamh, interrupts proceedings and asks Reid to start the play five months earlier. The actors step out of character and debate what to do.

Reid complies and through a series of flashbacks, we’re given some loosely connected scenes leading up to Niamh’s death. These convey a fragmented portrait of Northern Ireland today, which the audience is invited to piece together.

In April 2019, Connor is horrified when he discovers that his English fiancée Anna (Kennan) is defending Soldier F, a former British soldier charged with the death of two civil rights protesters 47 years ago, during what became known as Bloody Sunday.

The play is paused several times as the characters break through the fourth wall to address the playwright or the audience. This is a little overdone and works best at the beginning and end.

The 4th Country is beautifully acted but Gabriella Bird’s staging doesn’t always accommodate an audience sitting on three sides. During the scene changes, I lost some visual cues and missed the more softly spoken lines when the actors faced away.

This is a shame because Reid packs a lot into her 80-minute play, covering everything from the Troubles to abortion, and interweaving the political and the personal to great effect.

Reid also finds humour in the characters/actors’ attempts to fit in, their quibbling over accents and names.

When we discover that Reid is not actually from Northern Ireland herself, she makes a sharp point about the ownership of stories.

The 4th Country is a little convoluted – you need to concentrate to pick up all the clues subtly dropped into the script – but Reid proves herself a talent to watch.


Until February 5

Originally published by Islington Tribune