Heretics and Philistines

Published

Dominic Maxwell-Lewis is disappointed by the Tron’s overambition in Defender of the Faith

Set in a farmhouse on the Irish border against a backdrop of uncompromising republicanism, Defender of The Faith tells the story of a family torn apart by an allegiance to the IRA. The play follows the story of a subsequent search for a police informer within the family that stretches relationships and heightens tensions.

From the outset, Andy Arnold’s production had some good moments, especially between the two brothers in the opening scenes. Here, comedy and domestic brutality seem to be interwoven, each event acting as a springboard for the arrival of the next. However, its success is short lived. With the growing presence of the father, who usurps his power to great effect initially, there came a point where it seemed two plays ran in parallel, a strange parody of Irish stereotypes and a crass polemic on the Northern Irish ‘Troubles’. This is to say that the play lacked cohesion. The formula seemed unbeatable, a classic thriller with a series of stock characters that keep the audience within their comfort zone and a plot with a secret to reveal. An un-daring but strong exercise in realism where relationships are explored and preconceptions are deceived.

However, the simplicity was overlooked and the production set out to try and achieve too many things at once. The grip of paranoia that one hopes would build gradually with a pace growing at a menacing rate instead arrives abruptly three quarters of the way through with a fiercely hammy dialogue between father and son. This scene displays a self-conscious pace (noticeable throughout the play) that prevents the brooding atmosphere that the play boasts in its programme from happening.

This is truly a shame given that in Defender of The Faith’s better moments, which move away from a reliance on stage Irish there is a real lyricism that flows when the Actors relaxed into their characters. The use of coarse country language and primal symbolism gave a nod to the macabre, blackly comic plays of Martin McDonagh, who used the Irish vernacular successfully to portray the fine balance between tension and aggression.

This is where Defender of The Faith’s biggest shortcoming lay; the occasional feeling of tension was created by an outward act of aggression and not a subtlety of dialogue or physicality. This gave the whole production a feeling of heavy-handedness, which restrained the compassion that could have otherwise come through should the range of expression been more controlled and varied.