“a low flame thriller, splintered with humour, affection, and a weighty sense of modern history”
Inbetween the ArmaLite and the ballot box there’s some poetry, at least that’s how it is in writer David Hutchison’s reworking of Too Long the Heart (Edinburgh, 2013). In literary terms it’s Yeats with a telling fragment from Easter 1916; in a softer more lyrical vein there’s the Mountains of Mourne. We’re in Ireland, sure enough, in a freezing cold cottage in County Cork, armed with a tin of biscuits, tea, handcuffs, a heavy duty revolver and a semi-automatic pistol.
Get the picture? This is a low flame thriller, splintered with humour, affection, and a weighty sense of modern history. Split screen projection of news footage of ‘The Troubles’ – still an understatement to die for – makes the backstory all the more apparent. Bloody Sunday, the Loughgall ambush, Shoot to Kill, and ‘Historic Compromise’; they’re all here. And when it’s more introspective, there’s quiet, live music and song on cello, flute and guitar.
There are four characters gathered in this cottage. Caitlin (Cabrina Conaty) and her boyfriend Marty (Des O’Gorman) arrive first. She, for good reason, is eager and excited. Marty, a third year History under-graduate, is likeable but clueless. When it really would have been best to have their faces hidden, he doesn’t get his balaclava on in time. Nevertheless and as planned they manage to snatch an English tourist, who 30 years ago was an army captain in Belfast, and – eejit! – has come to the Republic for a spot of fishing. Neil Lawson (Steve Hay) denies it, of course, but he’s still got the haircut, the neat moustache, the tattersall shirt and real composure under fire. Maybe he was taught some Yeats at Sandhurst. Anyway, he certainly has to prove his mettle when he’s up against Brady (Ian Sexon), a Provisional IRA commander, who has some unfinished business with the British officer class.
Three years on, the script is tighter and sharper, reckons David Hutchison. The play is still being developed and the sightlines are not all they should be but it certainly cracks along under Andy Corelli’s direction and the more tense the moment, the better the action that is called for. The closing fifteen minutes in which Brady plays the police against the media is not so neat that the suspense cannot work. Up to that point it’s more a case of each character smacking against their past – or, with Yeats again, negotiating ‘the stone [that’s] in the midst of all’. The topicality of the projected imagery helps here and there’s some digital ‘doubling’ for each character to confront. Interestingly I was ‘with’ each one of them, so sympathetic is the characterisation. Brady ridding his unit of the out-and-out headcases (terrorists?) for instance. It’s Caitlin who makes the patriotic call for her beloved country of Ireland, which is ok until – unwittingly – she’s trumped by the line to ‘Take your country back’ and so I stay firmly with the Army’s riposte, if not belief, that national myths are ‘convenient evasions’. Poor Marty cannot find traditional Irish music on the radio, but then he’s more a ‘Snow Patrol’ kind of guy.
Too Long the Heart is ninety minutes of well calibrated drama. If for you ‘The Troubles’ are simply another dismal instance of ethno-nationalist conflict, then this should enliven and disturb the category.
Reviewer: Alan Brown (Seen 10 November)
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