On Tuesday May 17 I had the pleasure of attending the opening night of Stewart Parker’s Northern Star at the Lyric Theatre, Belfast, a play that stirred the senses and effortlessly enthralled its audience.
Set in a dilapidated cottage on Cave Hill following the 1798 Rising, Northern Star follows Belfast-born United Irishman Henry Joy McCracken as he recalls “the seven ages of his life” and mourns the lost opportunities of Irish history on the night prior to his arrest and subsequent execution.
Starring Richard Clements, Darragh Kelly, Paul Mallon, Charlotte McCurry, Eleanor Methven, Rory Nolan, Robbie O’Connor and Ali White of Rough Magic Theatre Company, Northern Star was an experience that delivered on every level. McCracken consistently draws parallels between life and the stage from the opening scene, with each age recalled being presented in the style of a great Irish writer. His attempts to analyse the reasons for the failure of the rebellion and its attempts to form a new nation are engaging, emotive and at times very comical.
This was a play that drew you in increasingly until its climactic monologue. It manages to avoid cliches and romanticism while still moving the audience and bringing to light the relentless violent cycles of Irish history.
The performances were incredible, with actors interchanging roles and often directly addressing the Belfast audience, while the injection of comedy alongside the blatant horrors of political warfare made for a darkly poignant sense of reflection.
Richard Clements (Henry Joy McCracken) brings an irrepressible passion and energy to the role that ensures your eyes are never off him and Charlotte McCurry (Mary Bodle) gave an equally dynamic performance along with a hauntingly beautiful singing voice in parts.
A powerful example of modern Irish drama, Northern Star delves into McCracken’s soul and shines a spotlight on the trauma and wreckage generations have repeatedly put themselves through with division and patriotism, and urges us to recognise that the fight is not with two warring communities but with the common man and the social elite, the puppeteers not the puppets.
The Sunday Independent says of Northern Star “A remarkable new production” and the Irish Times, “beautiful and moving”. It certainly leaves you with an influx of emotions and will be a play that won’t soon be forgotten in the minds of Belfast audiences and beyond.
Northern Star, directed by Lynne Parker, will be showing at The Lyric Theatre until May 29. See lyrictheatre.co.uk/event/northern-star for more information, times and ticket prices.