Review: Jade City, Bunker Theatre

Jade City is both a poetic ode to Belfast and a dark drama which presents themes surrounding accountability, trauma and masculinity. The light and shade of the show make it suitably enticing, but it also means that a text with this many layers struggles to find cohesion in just over an hour. 

Set in Belfast, Monty and Sas are lifelong friends who have carried on their childhood games in their adult world. Slowly we see the cracks appear in their friendship, as both address regrets from the past and doubt in the future.

Alice Malseed’s writing is brimming with energy and imagination, with the characters’ ironic sense of childlike innocence being thoroughly convincing due to their charming investment in their imaginary games, which hide a subtext of melancholy. However, the mix and match of poetic segments and dramatic stand-offs, become a little hard to follow and make the search for a meaningful conclusion harder to find. Don’t get me wrong, audience interpretation is important, but we shouldn’t be doing all the leg-work to fill in the gaps.  

The highlight of my evening is watching Barry Calvert and Brendan Quinn. They have a tough job: transferring from light to heavy in a matter of seconds, pushing their energy outward to us and then having to signal its retreat moments later. But they do so with great style and flare, presenting their characters in such a way that we feel compelled to take their story and spirit away with us. They make use of that age-old formula for onstage pairings — the ability to stand alone successfully, but truly thriving as a partnership. 

The design of the piece is coherent, with the lighting, set and captioning design all created by Timothy Kelly. The boxing ring stage connotes a battle fast approaching between the characters, but this symbolism doesn’t really connect with the whole piece. A set with such a clear meaning, but unclear relevance, seems strange. Instead, a less constricting staging might allow the development of more extensive physicality to be interwoven into the story telling. Movement in the show would be relevant — Jude Quinn has already directed the existing movement — so if this were to be extended it would possibly be able to explore the setting with more imagination. 

Interestingly, every performance of Jade City is captioned, which isn’t a venue wide protocol for every show, indicating it’s probably a stylistic choice. It helps us keep up, but becomes occasionally confusing when the actors skip a line or mix up the order. 

This play is full of potential, which is surely why it was transferred in the first place. I would love to see this play extended and developed, in both length and style for two reasons: firstly, so the play’s meaning could hit home with more prevalence and so I could watch this exquisite paring for longer.

Jade City is playing the Bunker Theatre until 21 September. For more information and tickets, see the Bunker Theatre website.