Friday, 21 August 2009


20/8/09, Assembly on the Mound (Edinburgh Fringe)

2 hrs, with interval. Written and directed by Martin Lynch. We overslept and missed the start and nearly abandoned the whole enterprise, though I'm very glad we didn't. Even sitting right at the back in a sizeable hall it was engrossing, despite being (or perhaps because it was) unusually long for a fringe show.

The story of the jail, the IRA prisoners, the blanket protest and the hunger strikes, the loyalist prisoners, the screws and their respective families, interspersed with Tamla Motown and Smokey Robinson songs sung unaccompanied by the cast.

Six actors (including one woman who played all the wives and some of the butchest men!) and a bunch of big boxes to sit, stand and lie on. Otherwise no props.

It worked maginificently and got a standing ovation. The first half was OK, the second half (encompassing the hunger strikes) surpassed it. The finest moment for me was the drunken soliloquy of the prison officer/narrator, who cursed them all, from Maggie Thatcher to the hunger strikers, remembering all those caught up against their will (the families, the innocent victims of the bombings and shootings), before contemplating suicide with the Walther PPK 9mm issued to him "for his personal protection". The tears welled up. And you could cut the silence. Pure theatrical magic.

Impressive because it made the IRA hunger strikers human without asking you to sympathise with their motives. Indeed it left me contemplating the madness of it all, the irrationality and the sense that almost everyone, including the IRA men, was caught up in something quite beyond their control.

It had a sly humour now and then as well, like the character of Toot, the simpleton who was framed for a bombing and spoke to the seagulls. At the end, as is the way with these Close the Coalhouse Door-style people's history-with-music plays, we heard in a sentence what happened to the main characters. All except Toot. They left the stage only for Toot to reappear to remark "youse really don't want to know what happened to me". Blackout. Laughter.

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