Theatre Review: Bag For Life – The Playhouse Theatre, Derry
April 11, 2016 Chris Caldwell 0 Comments
As we enter a darkened Playhouse Theatre in Derry a sparse stage is beset on all sides with various sizes of projection screens whilst a single light shines on a one metre square raised stage where a woman in a white dress sits with her back to us. As soon as we’re in we get immersed in this feeling that something is not quite right and over the course of the next hour and 15 minutes (there’s no interval) we discover that this is exactly the case.
The story of Bag For Life concerns a Belfast woman (played by Belfast’s Julie Addy) who, whilst out shopping in Tesco suddenly encounters the man who shot her brother in the face during the Troubles. The man has been released from jail thanks to the Good Friday Agreement and has a family and a life, her brother however is still very much dead. Whilst she also has a life and a son – Sasha “name in haste, repent at leisure” – she is suddenly overwhelmed by the injustice of it all, and so via everyone’s new best friend – Facebook – she starts to exact revenge, and later in much more real world ways too.
Addy delivers a raw performance, jumping from the role of doting mother to crazed mad-woman in seconds, and throughout the course of the play you can’t help but simultaneously sympathise and be repulsed by her character Karen’s actions.
Written by Colin Bateman, with his firm grasp on Norn Iron speak, there’s little wasted by way of words. Whilst Irish writers from the South like the McDonaghs have characters who wax lyrical like poets, Bateman very much writes the way people actually talk, and in the North what we lack in finesse we make up for in black humour. A particular line about being “Cameron Diazepam” had me chuckling for a while.
The play broaches NI as we sit now, a country that is ‘getting on with things’, trying to make reparations for those affected by the Troubles whilst trying to put ‘a pin in it’ and move on. Taking this at an individual level it’s evident that there’s no easy way to do this and this play explains that whole situation beautifully.
Told through the medium of a one-woman show that takes place entirely on the aforementioned one metre square raised stage, Bateman’s Bag For Life perfectly depicts what a small world Northern Ireland really is and that even with the wildest of movements, actress Julie Addy’s character Karen can’t escape her tiny space. The screens around her, which she interacts with, also bring to light how all this has changed in the digital age, where the click of a mouse can bring you face to face with a loved one’s killer as easily as it can with a long-lost best friend.
The small stage, the stark lighting, the skewed screens and black and white images used throughout make for a tense but captivating show. We’re sucked in, asked impossible questions and left wondering what we would do in similar situations. A position that Northern Ireland on the whole is trying to do before we can truly move on.
Intense, realistic and filled with mountains of black humour, Bag For Life is a fitting Legacy Project for Derry/Londonderry 2013 UK City of Culture that will strike a chord with anyone who sees it. Later in the year the play is headed for Belfast’s Lyric Theatre so catch it then if you didn’t get a chance this time.