Rough Magic’s The Train Pulls Into Belfast
April 20, 2017 Laura Caldwell 0 Comments
A fictional celebration of true events, Rough Magic Theatre Company’s The Train tells the story of the legendary Contraceptive Train of 1971 where members of the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement took the train from Dublin to Belfast to bring back illegal contraceptive pills over the Irish border.
On first glance, it may seem heavy, deeply political and serious, but did I mention that this is also a musical? Written by Arthur Riordan with music by Bill Whelan (Riverdance), The Train is a top class production with humour, wit and broadway-worthy songs to boot; and believe us, there is no irony lost in the fact that this play about women’s rights was written by a man.
The stage set (designed, of course by the ever talented Ciaran Bagnall) consists of metal girders, railings and walkways raised about the stage, leaving ample room for musical numbers down below. Smoke billows from the stage occasionally, and you really do get the feeling you are on a crowded train platform about to set off on a journey. The live band are visible, raised above the stage on another metal walkway, and a few props lie around the sides of the stage. It may sound drab, but the heaviness of the set contrasts nicely with the lightness of the cast’s voices and bright colours of their 70’s ponchos and mini-skirts which do a great job in bringing this musical to life.
Although 47 women boarded that historic train at Connelly Station, we follow the stories of just five, played by Danielle Galligan, Kate Gilmore, Sophie Jo Watson, Lisa Lambe and Karen McCartney. At the beginning of the play, director Lynne Parker comes on stage to tell us that unfortunately McCartney is suffering from laryngitis so the other ladies on stage will be singing her lines whilst she mimes, and to be perfectly honest, this worked so unbelievably well that I spent the first 20 minutes of the play not knowing which actress wasn’t actually singing. Meanwhile, Lambe’s stunning voice and feisty acting almost steal the show, only to be marginally outdone by Clare Barrett’s hilarious portrayal of ‘Aoife’ a typical Irish woman of the time who lives to serve her husband and becomes stirred up by the idea of taking control of her own life.
Packed full of tenderness, humour and zesty one-liners, it is not just the songs from The Train that are still stuck in my head a few days later. The plight of the women on board that train and all across Ireland is an enduring issue that is still relevant today; made all the more poignant in Belfast where religious traditions and politics often collide, this historical story is one that needs to be shared and celebrated, especially today.
After its stint at Dublin’s The Abbey Theatre, The Train has well and truly arrived at The MAC, and from the energy, pizzazz and passion evident on stage, it’s clear that the metaphorical and literal journey that The Train has taken in tracing the original women’s steps to Belfast really does mean a hell of a lot. As the show draws to a close, banners fly high, the music is loud, and the women on-stage stand tall, as do the audience as they receive a full standing ovation and everyone who brought this musical together deserves every single second of it.
The Train is at Belfast’s The MAC theatre until 23rd April, tickets can be purchased here.