Theatre review: Secrets on the Borderline

Strandline is a new play by award winning Irish playwright and former actress Abbie Spallen, set by the sea in Northern Ireland and focusing on five inhabitants of a small town. The play begins with a drowning at a wedding, moving to the house of the drowned man’s widow, Mairín, played by Cathy Belton, as she holds a wake.Mairín requests that three local women who witnessed her husband’s drowning stay the night with her. Reluctantly, they do so. What ensues is a night of discomfort, laughter, drunkenness, tears and anger. Secrets threaten to reveal themselves throughout the night, and when they do come out, the revelations prove devastating.Strandline is everything a great drama should be. The writing is many different things: intelligent, revealing, powerful, hilarious and heart-wrenching, these elements constantly play off each other to remarkable effect. The performances of the five actors are superb, their accents are faultless – I absolutely believed in the authenticity of each character, even the 13-year-old Sweeney, who was played brilliantly by a grown man, Conor MacNeill.Mairín’s character perfectly demonstrates how a community can respond to someone who intentionally sets themselves apart, who is from the area yet is just different. Mairín exists as an individual; she illustrates how dangerous annexing oneself from the accepted way of doing things can be, and how fixed ideas about one’s constructed identity can be destroyed in seconds. A sense of ‘town versus individual’ prevails; Clodagh is the ‘community’ representative, preaches of the importance of the town, that people are just trying to get by the best they can.The set design is utterly convincing, despite the daunting size of the stage at the Project Arts Centre, Sabine Dargent has created a space that aptly captures Mairín’s inward artistic values and personal attributes. The costumes are excellent, which reflect modern life and the characters’ personal style impeccably well, which in turn aid our understanding of them, and what is important to them.There are references to the legacy of the Troubles, there are numerous threats of violence, and one of the most poignant lines in the play is “That’s what happens, son, when you don’t grow up in a war”.Strandline runs until 5th December at Project Arts Centre.