Review: Agreement

Review: Agreement

What a difference a year makes. Since Agreement, Owen McCafferty’s first rate drama on the birth of the Good Friday Agreement, premiered last March at the Lyric Theatre, Stormont is back up and running. Happily, the drama that outlines the arrangement that underpins the ongoing peace process, hasn’t changed too much although there are some impressive new names in the cast.

The narrative arc remains sharp, the constant references to the weather with accompanying video design (by Eoin Robinson) as part of the set design (by Conor Murphy) witty. We aren’t sure the showers and brief sunlight are a pathetic fallacy, but Mo Mowlam’s final mixed weather report, with snow falling, indicates they might be.

There seemed to be a little more humour with Dan Gordon’s excellent John Hume executing an Irish dance between meetings. In a way, it’s astonishing that McCafferty has crafted such an engaging drama from that most banal form of human interaction. But it’s the characters involved, and the deadline, that make things truly interesting. As the playwright told me last year, it’s not a verbatim account, simply what he imagines happened, yet every word rings true, including the swear words  given what we know of the political heavyweights involved.

In a slightly speedy introduction, we meet David Trimble, initially the intransigent Ulster Unionisr, Ruairi Conaghan’s ramrod walk summed him up perfectly.

Yet Trimble is a tragic hero in a way. Conaghan delivers him as the man who is suffering from back pain and can be a pain in the neck,but makes him if not initially sympathetic, relatable. We feel sorry for him in the exchanges with Tony Blair, another new name Martin Hutson who schmoozes, then berates, then wants to be called ‘Boss’.

As the mantra ‘Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’ weaves through the talk of Strands one, two and three which are neatly explained, we learn how knife edge the negotiations actually were. You almost feel you do not know the outcome as the tension is palpable.

Blair’s interpretation this time was subtly difference from Rufus Wright’s charm offensive. Hutson is nastier, making you more aware of the performance and his manipulation of those around him.

Mo Mowlam acts as the moral compass in the centre and is often centre stage as it happens. My initial view of Andrea Irvine’s shining Mo Mowlam was wrong – she conveys her character’s fine and coarser aspects, throwing off her wig at one point. The pivotal scene where she and Bertie Ahern (outstanding Ronan Leahy) embrace when he says she’ll be long gone, meaning politically not because of her illness, before another peace chance surfaces, was genuinely touching.

So too were the scenes about Bertie Ahern’s loss of his mother just as the talks began. His depiction of grief was raw and believable, also his politician’s determination to see the job of the GFA through.

Incidental forces shape history. There was the droll urinal scene in which Gerry Adams, a sinister (“I always do the right thing.”) yet sentimental (he likes seeing squirrels outside) tour de force from Chris Corrigan, and Trimble meet up in the stalls. Two versions are given, one productive in moving the agreement forwards. As Hume reiterates, that’s all it takes.

This important new history play was again superbly directed by Charlotte Westenra before a New York debut next month with the actors nimbly moving tables to give us different, insiders and outsiders’ views of the action. Through Agreement, though, we become insiders, given a view on what it takes to bring two opposing sides together with the situation in Gaza hovering over things.

Jane Hardy

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.