Project Arts Centre
“We botched the birth,” says Henry Joy McCracken, speaking of his and his fellow “Mudlers’” attempt to bring their idea of Irish independence to fruition. The same phrase could be applied to describe Stewart Parker’s Northern Star. Rough Magic’s production is a good production grappling with an unwieldy play.
Northern Star tells the story of the seven ages of Henry Joy McCracken, as he reflects on the past seven years while hiding in a safe house with his partner and child on the run from the Yeomanry. Parker writes each age of McCracken in the style of a different writer, working his way through the Irish canon from Sheridan to Beckett. This ode to the canon, and examination of the theatricality of the rebellion and representations of it, seems a clever device. However, the changes between the writing styles, and the emphasis put on them means that the plot is often smothered in Wildean foppery or Beckettian linguistic play and patter. This issue is compounded by a lack of finesse in reproduction of many of the writers’ styles, leaving the watcher with a sense of having seen an empty, superficial imitation. While the performers and audience are caught up in this romp through the many styles of the Irish canon, it seems that the plot sometimes puts its feet up and dozes off.
This production does, however, deal well with the script. The suggested doubling of characters is well executed, with the changes to the actor playing McCracken in each age effective in allowing the “main” McCracken (played by Paul Mallon) to observe and reflect on the memories, as well as keeping a freshness in each segment. The performances were, on the whole, impressive, with Charlotte McCurry and Ali White delivering particularly good turns as Mary Bodle and Mary-Ann McCracken. Zia Holly’s set, based in the wings of a theatre, was cleverly conceived to compliment the conscious theatricality of Parker’s writing. This did, however mean that it did, at times, fall into the same trap as Parker’s writing in that it distracted overly from the plot and action. The solemn tenderness of Mary Bodle singing a heartbreaking song about McCracken to their son is somewhat distracted from by a large plush shark sitting just behind McCurry.
Northern Star is a play which tells a compelling story, and which employs and explores interesting theatrical styles and devices. Both are positive features, but unfortunately in this situation neither compliments the other, leaving both falling short. Though Rough Magic bring high quality performances and design to the production, they still fail to provide the clarity this play needs.
Northern Star runs at Project Arts Centre until 7th May before touring.