Jade City, Bunker Theatre – Review

Many of the plays that are set in Belfast directly or indirectly deal with The Troubles and sectarianism. But like any town or city, first and foremost, Belfast is a place made up of men and women, contending with ‘everyday problems’ such as lack of jobs and money, the search for meaningful relationships and hopes for the future… Written by Alice Malseed and directed by Katherine Nesbitt, Jade City focuses on two young men living in Belfast. Unlike their theatrical forbears, Sas (Brendan Quinn) and Monty (Barry Calvert) are the ‘children of the Good Friday Agreement’ and have never known a time before the Northern Ireland Assembly. But that’s not to say that life is a bed of roses in Belfast. Like most places, it’s divided between those who have wealth and connections, and those who don’t …

Ali Wright
L-R: Sas (Brendan Quinn) and Monty (Barry Calvert) / All photos © Ali Wright

Unemployed – enduring the fallout like many who live in economically-deprived areas – Monty and Sas spend much of their time in each other’s company. When they do, they often find themselves playing ‘The Game’. This involves imagining themselves with money, with a job, in a different country – a million ways that their lives would be different, for the better.

Calvert’s Monty is the ‘Alpha’ of the two – self-assured, unfettered by doubts. While his job prospects aren’t much better than Sas’s, he’s less encumbered by his sense (or lack of) of ‘the bigger picture’. In contrast, Sas is more reflective and even when playing ‘The Game’, there is a point even within the fantasy where he won’t ‘cross a line’.

Ali Wright

At one point in the play, they talk about books they’ve read and Trainspotting comes up – an apt choice considering the synergy of the antics and sociological background of its lead characters with their lives. This being the case, Malseed’s play asks us to look beneath the surface of Monty and Sas – to see the depths human beings can find themselves, yet still have a degree of their humanity.

The ‘elephant in the room’ in every conversation, ‘Katie’ is a person who is in Sas’s every thought – always on the periphery of his vision. While Katie is Sas’s ‘Rosebud’, she has just as much – if not more – history with Monty, not that he tries to remember. And far from being a wellspring of enlightenment and comfort, Sas’s more recent interest in feminism triggers cascading waves of guilt – not so much for the things he’s said and done, but for the things he hasn’t…

Ali Wright

Visually, one of the most striking things about Jade City is the ‘boxing ring’ set-up. At a subliminal level it makes sense, but an aftershow talk with play’s creative team confirms that ‘the ring’ reflects the sort of communal places that lads like Monty and Sas would have frequented during their formative years. Perhaps more pertinently, for set designer Timothy Kelly, it symbolizes the boundaries of masculinity established by society, which far from being liberating, keeps Sas and Monty ‘boxed in’ when confronting questions about what does it really mean to be a ‘man’ – what CAN and what SHOULD they do. On a seperate note, the performances are also captioned, which obliquely brings the audience’s attention to the innate rhythm and nuances of the language, what is said – and what isn’t…

Belfast features large in Jade City and is very much a character in its own right. However, the issues that Sas and Monty face and their uncertainty about how to relate to- and treat women beyond their initial conversations with them isn’t specific to Belfast, or any particular class or educational background.

© Michael Davis 2019

Jade City runs at the Bunker Theatre until 21st September.


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