Theatre review: Belfast Famine at Pentameters Theatre, Hampstead

belfast famine jack nancy and peter

belfast famine jack nancy and peter - Credit: Archant

This atmospheric tale of life in a 19th century Belfast boarding house could do with a little more direction, says Aline Waites

The mini famine happened in Belfast in 1879 – an event caused by crop failure and was terrifying to the people - especially those who had lived through the potato famine thirty years before.

John Dunne has set his play in a Belfast boarding house. The landlady, Anne (Mary Tynan) is interviewing a prospective tenant Patrick (Damien Regan) who is applying for the vacant room in her property. She poses as a widow, not revealing to him that her errant husband has left her and fled the country with his mistress, leaving her to cope on her own. Patrick also hides his true identity – a Catholic priest – someone not welcome in a protestant community.

Another would be tenant is Nancy a streetwalker who is introduced into the house by her pimp Jack. He is insisting that the house belongs to him, that he has won it from the runaway husband and his plan is to turn it into an upmarket brothel. Unfortunately for him Nancy’s ambition is not to become a famous courtesan but really wants to be a respectable woman. Morag Carter- very pretty and a recent drama school graduate plays Nancy and Mark Moore takes on the villainous role of Jack.

It is difficult to judge this play as the performances I went to was an early, ill attended one, and there was little response from the audience. The Irish accents are difficult to understand at first and I feel that Tynan in particular is rather under energised and misses many dramatic opportunities. This may be the fault of the director who is also the writer. It is often the case that the writer is too close to the material to direct adequately and an outside brain might be an advantage.


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As usual at the Pentameters there is a well designed and atmospheric setting.

Rating: 3/5 stars

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