Review: Colin Bateman's Bag for Life is a raw, powerful and no-holds-barred journey
THE word 'F*ck' is used 13 times in Colin Bateman's new play Bag for Life. The play begins and ends with the word, and for a number of audience members filing out the doors of Derry's Playhouse it was about all they could muster too.
For Bateman's play is, certainly for a Northern Irish audience, a raw, powerful and no-holds-barred journey through the deepest, darkest emotions we have all, as survivors of our Troubles, pushed to the back of our subconsciousness since the Good Friday Agreement made everything 'normal'.
Julie Addy of The Fall fame plays Karen, an ordinary married mother-of-one, who like many here was touched by the Troubles. Her 22-year-old brother Johnny was shot dead by a paramilitary gunman, namely Michael McAllister, who was released under the Good Friday Agreement and is now in the condiments isle in Tescos as she does her weekly shop.
In a split second, there beside the Basil, Thyme and Bisto, Karen goes from being a normal Mum to a murderous, revenge thirsty, plotting, scheming, crazy woman who is willing to try anything – create a dangerous fake Facebook persona, fashion a disguise, stalk, break and enter, and worse - and risk everything to make McAllister feel even a fraction of the pain and torment her family had to endure.
Addy is the only actor on stage, but she commands every single inch of it. She interacts with digital screens, on which other characters and scenes appear and we follow her as she descends into depression and eventual madness.
She remembers her brother having to have a closed coffin after being shot in the face; his name spelt out in flowers; her mother and father dying of broken hearts, her brother not being able to have a family like McAllister, watching football on a Saturday or going to 'f*cking Tescos'.
There are as many moments of hilarity as there are moments of deep, gripping angst as Karen struggles with the 'killer in the condiments isle' and his seemingly perfect, prosperous and normal life – 'a walking, talking embodiment of the Peace Process' - as her brother lies decaying under the ground.
The play perfectly tackles the real issue of the legacy left behind by 30 years of brutality here. It questions the issue of forgiveness. Karen screams that she does not 'have a drink problem, a drug problem, a mental health problem', more so that she has a 'history problem, a forgiveness problem, a turn the other f*cking cheek problem'.
Bag for Life will stir the darkest recesses of the Northern Irish soul. Karen could be any one of us. Indeed she is many of us.
Bag For Life will run at the Playhouse in Derry until Saturday after which it will travel to the Lyric Theatre in Belfast. For more information check out the Playhouse on www.derryplayhouse.co.uk.