Agreement review: ‘compelling political thriller’ with a first-rate cast

Owen McCafferty’s new play focuses on the negotiations leading up to the Good Friday Agreement

Packy Lee as Gerry Adams and Dan Gordon as John Hume in Agreement
Packy Lee as Gerry Adams and Dan Gordon as John Hume in Agreement
(Image credit: Carrie Davenport)

A drama about the negotiations that led to the Good Friday Agreement – 25 years ago this month – might sound a dry affair. But Owen McCafferty’s “searing” new play is anything but that, said Jane Coyle in The Irish Times. Agreement is a “compelling political thriller with echoes of Greek drama”, in which the playwright “peels away interlocking layers of compromise, dislike and distrust to reveal a fraught, painstaking journey towards an acceptable solution to a stubbornly intractable problem”. Featuring as characters all the main players – John Hume, David Trimble, Gerry Adams, Bertie Ahern, George Mitchell, Tony Blair and Mo Mowlam – the play unfolds in a circular space, with a single round window to the sky, that becomes a “goldfish bowl of feverish political manoeuvring”.

If you think you might get lost in the finer points of what was at stake during the negotiations, fear not: “Mo Mowlam will helpfully turn to the audience and explain them”, said Dominic Maxwell in The Times. McCafferty clearly realised that covering the complexities of the three days of talks would be impossible. So his “bustling yet lucid” play rejects “conventional storytelling” and instead “embraces bittiness”. Characters stand at the front of the stage and introduce themselves. Scenes are mostly “secluded tête-à-têtes”, including a “memorable chat between Adams and Trimble at the urinals”. And the staging is inventive and unconventional; at one point there’s an Ethel Merman-style dance routine. It all adds up to a “vivid” tribute to the power of compromise, “outstandingly well-performed”.

This important play has been given a suitably first-rate cast and Charlotte Westenra directs them “superbly”, said Jane Hardy in The Irish News. Rufus Wright is “brilliant”, and often extremely funny, as Blair. Packy Lee is terrific as Adams, torn between the need to represent his nationalist constituency and his desire to make history. Patrick O’Kane is a “tortured, clever” and notably sweary Trimble. And Dan Gordon captures well the humanity of Hume, the calm voice of moderate nationalism.

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Lyric Theatre, Belfast (028-9592 2672). Until 22 April; lyrictheatre.co.uk

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