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A CurtainUp London  Review
The Force of Change

By Lizzie Loveridge

I am the steel ring around their house that keeps every scumbag, housebreaker, hijacker, joyrider, gluesniffer, dope dealer, racketeer, petty criminal out of reach from their property, their house, their car, their belongings, their children, their neighbourhood
---Detective Constable David Davis
Gary Mitchell's play about the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Protestant dominated police force of Northern Ireland, The Force of Change makes a welcome return to the Royal Court, but this time, on its main stage. It was very well received by critics in April this year when it was sold out for the run. There have been a couple of cast changes from six months ago. The politics of Ireland have long been a fascinating subject for dramatists and film makers but they mostly draw their material from Irish nationalism and the Irish cause. I cannot recall having seen a drama before which concentrates on Ulstermen and Protestant or loyalist factions. 

The background is this. The Protestant majority, the "Orangemen" called after William of Orange, the king who displaced Catholic James II in the Glorious Revolution of 1688, has controlled the RUC since its inception. Thus, some of the people the RUC is called upon to arrest, the UDA (Ulster Defence Association), are from the same background and hold similar values. As Bill (Sean Caffrey) puts it in the play, "I joined the Protestant Police Force to protect the Protestant people of Ulster against the IRA (Irish Republican Army). The UVF (Ulster Volunteeer Force, an extreme Protestant terrorist group) was underground and illegal already, so being a law abiding Protestant I didn't see any future in that. . but the UDA I saw possibilities there. We all did. It was almost like a reserve police force, isn't that right?" 

So the police force was seen as partial at best, as "the enemy" at worst, by the Catholic minority. There have been frequent calls from Irish nationalists to disband the RUC. Government policy is to make the RUC more acceptable and representative by encouraging recruitment and promotion of Catholics and women. 

Mitchell's play features Caroline (Laine Megaw), 35 years, a Detective Sergeant in the RUC, the recipient of fast track promotion. Bill is 22 years her senior, a veteran of the RUC but still a Detective Constable having been passed over for promotion: their working relationship is fraught with conflict. Mark Simpson, 37, (Simon Wolfe) is Caroline's equivalent on the other interviewing team with David Davis, (Stuart Graham) a 30 year old Detective Constable. Caroline is attractive and ambitious and not very likeable. These detectives are in the course of interviewing two suspects, Stanley Brown (Stephen Kennedy) a hardened UDA man accused of extortion and "Rabbit" (Gerard Jordan) a 19 year old petty criminal whose record of joyriding is as long as your arm but who might be implicated and willing to give information on the UDA.

Much of the first act is to set up the characterisation for the dramatic and shocking second act. Members of the UDA are under orders to say nothing, so Stanley Brown's interview consists of detectives asking questions that are met with silence. Caroline finds herself not only in conflict with Bill but also with Dave, who doubts her effectiveness at obtaining convictions, and Mark, who physically attacks the youth to find Caroline sticking to the rule book rather than supporting him. The second act is very powerful, as the issues come to a head and the seamy corruption of the RUC is exposed. 

Robert Delamere's tight direction gives us a police thriller which also makes some serious political points. The body language of the twitching teenager contrasts beautifully with Stanley Brown's stolid refusal to speak - he flashes his eyes and we can feel him seething. The performances I liked in the main. Laine Megaw's leggy Caroline hovered between using her sexual attraction, acting the successful businesswoman, phoning her family on the mobile and trying to appear worthy of her fast track promotion. However feeling ambivalent about her is important to the denouement. Sean Caffrey's Bill Byrne has much of the air of a worn weary policeman, compounded by his need of a haircut and his cheap shoes. Simon Wolfe and Stuart Graham are solid as younger detectives but their interviewees take the acting honours. Stephen Kennedy, as hard man Brown in a tee shirt, his muscular arms sporting political tattoos, conveys so much contempt and anger without using words and I particularly liked Gerard Jordan's naturalistic, fidgetting joyrider, clothed in a white prison suit, his sneakers without laces, sometimes full of bravado, sometimes a frightened boy. 

Simon Higlett's mirrored set shows two plain identical interview rooms, windows high up, linked by a corridor with locking doors, but with no dividing walls. It is a clever use of space which with lighting lets the scene change from one room to the other, but still allows the actors in either room the majority of the stage as the interview space overlaps. Only at the end do we realise why the institutional furniture is chained to the floor. 

Written by Gary Mitchell
Directed by Robert Delamere

With: Sean Caffrey, Laine Megaw, Simon Wolfe, Stuart Graham, Stephen Kennedy, Gerard Jordan.
Design: Simon Higlett
Lighting Design: Chris Davey
Sound Design: Paul Arditti
Composer: Harry Peat 
Running time: Two hours twenty minutes with an interval
Box Office: 020 7565 5000
Booking to 25th November 2000
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 8th November 2000 performance at The Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, Royal Court, Sloane Square, London SW1 

©Copyright 2000, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp.
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