I was running late for the play and ordered a taxi which is something I normally don't do as I don't drive and walk everywhere if I can. The taxi driver told me he lived with Gerry Conlon's brother in England. He went to England at the age of 16. He went straight to the Christian Brothers in London and asked them where all the Irish people were as he was looking for work. The Brothers sent him to a particular street corner and told him to wear a couple of jumpers to look 'bigger' for the purpose of gaining work on the building sites. A man who turned out to be Gerry Conlon's brother heard his Belfast accent and took him on. They discovered that they were practically neighbours in West Belfast. They became friends and the taxi driver stayed at digs with him for years. I stupidly asked the taxi driver if he was in England before or after Gerry's arrest and he said after which in hindsight was obvious as he wasn't what you would call old.
The Lyric is a fine venue and you would be at a loss to find a bad seat.
The play began in darkness with the actor playing Gerry Conlon writhing and contorting energetically on a bed, as if from his reaction to a savage nightmare.
The story, of which I knew very little, follows Gerry as he gets released from prison after a devastating miscarriage of justice and then through the peaks and troughs of his chaotic life after his release.
It is difficult to guess at how Gerry Conlon would've lived if he wasn't arrested and framed as a bomb-maker and now is not the place to speculate but, despite his small time criminal past, I suspect he would've thrived. This is one message I received from the play - the unadulterated unfairness of it all. I guess otherwise it would have been a Fair Trial and not a Show Trial.
I don't want to go into the details of the story as one of the most valuable merits of the play is its expert story telling.
Another merit of the play was the unquenchable vigour with which the actor goes through his paces. The actor's boundless energy was unfettered to the point of being psychotic. I mean this as a complement as it was such a fine performance of mimicry that I forgot completely that this wasn't Gerry Conlon in front of me and was absorbed into the world of victimhood, broken and firm relationships, poverty and emotion.
It was a hellish emotional rollercoaster which hammered home the fact that despite his release the ill effects of confinement dictated the path Gerry was to take through life: heartache, guilt about his father Giuseppe, bad luck and addiction.
It was funny in equal measure to its horror which is a trick undoubtedly difficult to pull off but no problem for the playwrights or the perfectly cast actor. The audience was on the verge of tears at times and was there was an abundance of laughing throughout. There was even a quirky reference to The Pensive Quill.
I was fighting back tears on a couple of particular scenes. One of my friends was an ex-prisoner and he said it brought back a lot of familiar memories.
Although much of the play took place after his release the set was a simple prison cell, an obvious metaphor that stated that Gerry Conlon was never actually free from injustice or his past.
The actor was a fine mimic as mentioned above and he adroitly played characters as diverse as Gerry Conlon's mum, girlfriend, father, film director Jim Sheridan, various Hollywood actors, musicians like Bruce Springsteen, actor Daniel Day-Lewis who famously played Gerry in the film In the Name of the Father and yes, you guessed it, everybody else as it was a one-man play. It was an astounding performance and a fascinating insight into the life of one of our famous sons. It wasn't a pleasant story but the play was entertaining and informative in equal measure.
In the modern age you expect at least one mobile phone to go off at a play and one did, right at the point the actor was explaining how he lost everything in a house fire, "but at least the mobile phone still worked" he quipped. He got a well deserved round of applause for that.
A superb play. I suspect it will be touring. Go and see it. I promise you will not be disappointed.
⏩ Simon Smyth is an avid reader and collector of books.