Review: Fire Below (A War of Words) puts north's middle classes centre stage

Ruairi Conaghan, Cara Kelly, Frankie McCafferty and Ali White in Fire Below (A War Of Words) by Owen McCafferty at the Lyric Theatre, Belfast
Jane Hardy


Fire Below (A War of Words)

Lyric Theatre


YOU could say Northern Ireland's middle classes represent the untold story of the Troubles. On Saturday, the anniversary of the date the United Irishmen formed, Owen McCafferty's Fire Below (A War of Words) opened at the Lyric Theatre. It's a clever state-of-the-nation play which redresses the balance.

As Gerry and Rosemary and Tom and Maggie line themselves up on a fashionable deck with wine overlooking an Eleventh night bonfire on a working-class estate, we get their particular narrative. They play with that word, and words generally, in an Alan Ayckbourn manner. However, the McCafferty depth charges are there from the start.

There is sectarian joshing – and Gerry (droll, troubled Frankie McCafferty) jokes early on about watching Protestants burning tyres and sticks and shouting – "if that can't make a middle class ex-Catholic happy, what can?" The audience laughed in recognition.

Yet as the middle-aged couples, friends for two decades, make inroads on the booze, a kind of manic mood takes over. There's a frenzied, funny dance to Chicago's If You Leave Me Now. There's also an inevitable move towards a fight, triggered by a Palestinian flag spotted on the bonfire.

You sense the couples will have discussed the Middle East question before but have a compulsion to return. It's an itch they have to scratch, which leads to the question of whose country is it anyway. The question arises about how civilised these educated Belfast characters can really be.

Fire Below, with the title's double meaning, is a companion piece to McCafferty's brilliant Quietly which deals with an atrocity also referred to here. Maggie's mother, a doctor in A&E, was at the scene and Ali White quietly makes the story count. She says her mother is too prosperous now to get help, yet the working classes have support.

These four may not have directly lost someone, but have nonetheless, McCafferty suggests, been affected like the whole of northern society. Tom (impressive, energetic Ruairi Conaghan) has an important speech in which he declares their lives have been "hijacked".

After the Protestants storm out – and they are pretty liberal, after all, Tom is even learning Irish – our householders grasp the transcendent beauty of the night. Cara Kelly conveys the mood superbly. The ending might have been predictable but the neighbours' return, with a gag about Finchley, provides a sense of hope.

Jimmy Fay directs with skill.

:: Until October 28;

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access