Ourselves Alone Reviews

***** 5 STARS – A. Chara, theatrenetwork.org

“A superb script with cast to match…”

Last week I was in Belfast making arrangements for my part in the Belfast Fringe next month. The Belfast I know is a lovely city; creative, gracious and hospitable. The Belfast I found myself in yesterday was one I’ve never known beyond the news reports. But for anyone who, as a child, listened to reports of The Troubles and wondered why the people didn’t just leave, this play goes a long way to inform while it entertains.

It’s a strange feeling to have to edge past an armed squaddie while finding your way to your seat (and you make damned sure your mobile phone IS switched off!). There is something very poignant about the image of two British soldiers and an RUC officer occupying the stage while the melancholy tones of an Irish-language folk song fill the auditorium. It is this unspoken tragedy that forms the backdrop to the smaller tragedies and injustices explored in the play.

For all that, this is an entertaining play. The first half in particular is shot through with humour as well as heartache. The three women are well written: their individuality of each is clear and yet subtly drawn so that the personalities complement rather than clash. There’s Josie (Aoibhéann McCann) heartbroken over a married man, Frieda (Stephanie F O’Brien) who appears to care only for songwriting and Donna (Jude Schweppe) the peacemaker of the three, tormented by her wakeful child and absent husband. All three actresses give such accomplished, nuanced performances that I believed the characters from the beginning and really cared about what happened to them as the story unfolds.

What immediately strikes you is the sense of normal life continuing. In the opening scene, Frieda rehearses a song for a forthcoming performance. A portrait of Bobby Sands may be hanging on the back wall but Frieda’s concern is for her career as a singer / songwriter. The scene in Donna’s house, with it’s laughter and squabbles is warm and real: the familiarity of the domestic scene serves to highlight to more sinister “normality” of the threat of army raids.

The tone changes with the arrival of Joe Conran (played by Gregory A Smith). An upper-middle class, public school educated Englishman, he seems an unlikely IRA volunteer made even more sinister by the fact that he doesn’t drink tea. Maurice Byrne gives an impressive performance as “Big Fella”, Malachy McCourt. He says little but he dominates the stage at each appearance and he’s a man to be listened to.

The play darkens in the second half as the lives of the three women develop. Donna’s husband has returned as has her sense of guilt that she first married another man and has since abandoned her son by him, realising too late that the child is more than the offspring of its father. Josie gives up on her married man and, reveals herself to be more than just a courier for the IRA when she first interrogates and then seduces Conran. Frieda finally seems to find the happiness she has longed for when she takes up with the Protestant socialist John McDermot (played by Cameron Robertson with all the earnest affability of a Sunday School teacher) only to be beaten by him in a particularly shocking scene.

By the end of the play, the family is about to be scattered but the women at least are as close to each other as ever.

The direction is very slick. The play benefits from a sparse set and an expert use of the space available: everything we need to know is in the writing and this production gives it room to breathe. When the writing’s as good as this, success is guaranteed.

There are actors I haven’t mentioned specifically. This is a reflection on the space I have and not on them. There wasn’t a bad performance in this piece. Very impressive. I’ll be looking out for more from this company.

 

Hollywood Screenwriter – William Gray

 - “Directed with precision and clarity…”

Ourselves Alone is a powerful and evocative play that feels as fresh and relevant today as it must have seemed twenty-five years ago at its premier and the Just Theatre company’s vivid production does it full justice.  Directed with precision and clarity by Conor Irwin, the cast is uniformly excellent, each actor bringing a deeply felt authenticity to his or her role.  That said, however, the play centers around the three women left to make the best of their lives while their men act out the violent rituals of an endless guerilla war, and the three actresses here, Stephanie F. O’Brien, Jude Schweppe and Aoibheann McCann are individually and collectively brilliant.

 

Political Journalist/Documentary Film maker/Managing Director of Mentorn Media – Steve Anderson

-”…stark performances that are sensitively observed and creatively performed….”

“Ourselves Alone” captures a particular moment in the recent history of Northern Ireland. Through the eyes of three modern but very different women, it lays out in vivid detail the particular struggles of the period. Trapped in a world of chauvinism, racism and terrorism, the women – two sisters and a sister-in-law – persevere through the darkest experiences to emerge stronger, giving the audience an overwhelming belief that hope can triumph over the most challenging of experiences. This production of “Ourselves Alone” beautifully relives the drama and intensity of West Belfast in the 1980s, with stark performances that are sensitively observed and creatively performed.

Radio Producer – Ruth Fitzsimons

-”…You simply won’t be able to look away….”

Martin McGuinness running for Irish President, power sharing in Stormont and an apology for Bloody Sunday, are just some of the fundamental changes since Anne Devlin’s “Ourselves Alone” was first performed in 1986 at The Royal Court in London.

Yet rather than an historical Troubles play, this exellent cast brought vividly to life the fear and intensity of a society forced to choose between loyality to clan and loyality to cause. Just Theatre’s creative production is unrelenting; bringing the audience into the tender moments of life in a crisis to the violent outbursts of those living on the edge. You simply won’t be able to look away.

Stephanie O’Brien, Jude Schweppe and Aoibheann McCann give outstanding performances as the central characters of the McCoy sisters. It is a pleasure to watch so many strong female characters brought to life on the stage . Cameron Robertson also deserves a special mention for his terrifyingly realistic portrayal of domestic violence.

Anne Devlin noted that this play has never been performed in Belfast but with Just Theatre’s production, perhaps it is time.

 

AWARD WINNING PLAYWRIGHT ANNE DEVLIN ON THE DUBLIN TOUR

A…thrilling production…. All… reports were excellent… all who saw remarked to me that it was a great production…. well directed…(and) the performances were excellent…

 ARTIST, LECTURER & IRISH CULTURAL/POLITICAL HISTORIAN

DIARMUID SHIEL 

We must congratulate The JuSt Theatre Company (London) for its recent production of Anne Devlin’s play, Ourselves Alone,  at the Players Theatre in the Samuel Becket Centre, Trinity College, Dublin (June 18th-23rd 2012). The actors wonderfully portray three sisters in Belfast whose endeavours to find contentment in life are impeded by their complicated relationships with fractious men. Rejected by her father, an IRA stalwarth, Frieda falls into the arms of a male socialist who is strongly opposed to the IRA. On the release of her lover from prison, Donna discovers his unfaithfulness. Josie betrays her lover, an IRA leader, by  bearing another man’s child. Their relationships unfold in a city patrolled by British troops, divided by religious bigatory, politics and ethnicity. Violence in the relationships, particularly male violence, is accompanied by the sounds of distant gunfire and the beating of dustbin lids. Appropriately, the stage-set is black. The actors, dramatically revealed in chiaroscuro by experts in theatrical lighting, perform their parts wonderfully. The audience is enthralled.
In this production, the JuSt Theatre Company successfully demonstrates the importance of the female playwright. It is refreshing to discover that there are, in this company, so many young men and women with emmense talents in acting and production. They are alphabetically Jonathan Blakeley, David Cullinane, Aaron Devine, Neil Hogan, Conor Irwin, Jack Lowe, Aoibheann McCann, Stephanie O’Brien, Michael O’Toole, Jude Schweppe and Glen Speers et al. Because I have attended many productions by established and experimental theatre companies in Ireland and abroad I feel sufficiently informed to recommend the JuSt Theatre Company.
Diarmuid Shiel.
30th June 2012.