The Troubles have long been a subject writers from Ulster and the Republic of Ireland are drawn to. While some plays have addressed the unsaid grievances and pain of yesteryear, others such as Brendan Behan’s The Hostage have tackled the ‘romantic myths’ of the ‘struggle’ through satire, a means to broach the ‘unsayable’. It is this latter group that Joseph Crilly’s On McQuillan’s Hill falls under. Directed by Jonathan Harden, in this latest production we meet Mrs Tymelly (Helena Bereen) the caretaker of a community hall in the town of Gentry. The premesis in question has been sold to another party, while handyman Ray McCullen (Declan Rogers) is at hand to inspect it before he begins renovation.
Unbeknownst to Mrs Tymelly, young Theresa Maline (Julie Maguire) has been given permission to hold a ‘welcome home’ party for her father Fra Maline (Johnny Vivash), a former IRA prisoner released early under the Good Friday Agreement. However, Fra has no plans to have a ‘quiet, well-behaved’ drink with friends… As for Loretta (Gina Costigan) – Fra’s sister and the new proprieter of the premesis – her presence sets in motion a series of events that will bring the world of the Malines crashing down about them.
While the first act sows the seeds of intrigue and gives us an idea of the unresolved issues of the respective characters, the ‘payoff’ is seen and felt in the second half of the play. It is there that On McQuillan’s Hill shifts up several gears, as the farcial events take on Orton-esque proportions, while the revelations take on Festen-esque overtures.
Beyond the black comedy and its satirical edge, On McQuillan’s Hill addresses the fragiliy of the innocence of youth and how like the ‘sancity of life’ during the ‘campaigns’, it can be held cheaply. Within the world of the play, in rural Ulster, secrets take on a life and power of their own – their disclosure tantamout to tearing down the status quo. While some ‘truths’ in the play are kept hidden with the best intentions, they are almost always feared. Also, even with characters behaving from a place of ‘honesty’, of conviction, what they ‘know’ isn’t necessarily the whole picture.
Through the character of Dessie Rigg (Kevin Murphy) we see another side of Fra’s past and sexuality, as well as being the catalyst for general discussions regarding ’emotional disloyalty’ and ‘betrayal’. Speaking of ‘betrayals’ , Loretta’s fractured relationship with with her family and Ray underpins the whole play, though from the audience’s perspective, the issue of attrition versus contrition in the aftermath of their relationship is what immediately gauges interest.
As for Theresa, she is at centre of the familial Venn diagram – all decisions lead to her, but she is as far removed from knowing or comprehending the whole truth as can be. Which just leaves Mrs Tymelley. Her ‘fault’ is ‘knowing everyone’s business’, but even though the Malines are local legends, even she has a hard time separating the facts from the myth…
Responsibility to oneself and others permeates the play, as does how isolation – real or imagined – affects one’s mental well-being. The play shows that even for the ‘strongest’, most ‘together’ people, they all have a threshold where they uncharacteristically avoid facing the truth head on…
© Michael Davis 2020
On McQuillan’s Hill runs at Finborough Theatre until 29th February.