Review: ‘The Gate of the Year’ at the MAC, Belfast (2016)

goty5Stephen Donnan reviews Gareth Russell’s updated 2016 version of his play, The Gate of the Year, and finds some great performances and perfect timing, as 1780s France is juxtaposed with 1980s Ireland, and the terror is palpable. 


In this updated and revamped version of Gareth Russell’s Gate of the Year, we are treated to a sparkling and refined insight into the downfall of the French aristocracy, masterfully intertwined with ghosts of the 1981 Hunger Strikes, the assassination of President Kennedy, and the 2011 London Riots.

The performance of the cast burns into the audience, and at points, you could hear a pin drop, as we hung on each and every syllable. Not a word is wasted or a beat missed, all are used to drive the narrative forward, as the building spectre of revolution and the crumbling façade of a decadent Versailles cast a palpable dread over the second and third acts.
Once again, Gareth has chosen a cast that accurately captures the spirit of the moment. Stand-out performances from Daniel Kelly, Rebecca Lenaghan, and Barry Simpson make up a Holy Trinity of masterful delivery, by becoming living, breathing, embodiments of the characters.
Daniel Kelly’s firebrand young Marat, a Protestant French rebel unwilling to commit murder for the cause, yet unapologetic for its necessity, is a mirror for young men caught up in the Northern Ireland conflict.
Gareth pulls no punches in shining a light on the inevitability of history repeating itself, whether in 1780s France or 1980s Ireland.
Lenaghan portrays the magnificent ‘darling of the right’, the Duchess of Polignac, Gabrielle. Through her, we are given a harrowing insight into how the upper classes view the people they are trusted to protect and serve, and, as the performance hammers on, Rebecca perfectly depicts the heart-breaking realisation that her world, one way or another, is about to end.
Rebecca commands the stage even when surrounded by the rest of the cast, her delivery and timing is unparalleled, and is, in my mind, the star of the show in many ways.
The actors bounce off each other majestically, comfortable in their own roles, and constantly exploring the space of the stage as an organic platform that moves and breathes with them. The use of music and sound effects is sparse, but effective.
A particular scene stands out in my mind and will stay with me for a long time I suspect, that of the air-raid sirens sounding throughout Versailles and Paris, as news of the Prime Minister’s assassination is broadcast on television. The terror is real, and it is a tangible beast that Russell unleashes upon his cast and the audience.
An electric atmosphere runs through the performance, and no doubt can be cast on the commitment, energy and dedication the entire production crew has for their craft.
To believe that their world is falling apart, without a shot being fired on the stage, is nothing short of a masterpiece, and Russell should be immensely proud of his craft and talent.
[This review was first published last month in our July monthly edition of EILE Magazine link below:
on pages 42 and 43 – Ed.].

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