Arts Review

Across the Barricades

The Centenary Theatre Group Presents Across the Barricades by David Ian Neville

Directed by David Bell

Chelmer Community Theatre

16th Sept - 7th Oct, 2023


Dr Gemma Regan


An entertaining and endearing production


Across the Barricades is a modern Romeo and Juliet love story adapted from Joan Lingard’s novel set in Belfast during the height of the troubles when neighbourhoods were divided by barbed-wire fences and religion, causing tensions and terrorism with many deaths in the struggle for a united Ireland.


As you enter the Chelmer Community Theatre, home of the Centenary Theatre Group (CTG), you're greeted with the sounds of old Irish music reels and a doorway emblazoned with the Irish and British Flags and barbed wire. Irish Coffee is even available to get you into the mood. The stage had a back wall of cycling photographic images from the times of ‘the troubles’ in Belfast. Serving as a reminder of the atrocities and tensions caused by the British division of Ireland.


Kevin and Sadie were childhood friends, separated by religion and upbringing despite living only streets away from one another. After reuniting, a beautiful but illicit romance blossoms and must remain hidden as a ‘Mick’, a Catholic boy and a ‘Proddy’ Protestant girl are forbidden to associate Across the Barricades, leading to dire consequences!


Director David Bell found directing Across the Barricades instrumental in helping him understand how profoundly those growing up in Belfast were affected. The forbidden romance between Sadie and Kevin reflects the division within Northern Ireland between the Catholics who wanted a united Ireland and the Protestants who supported the Queen’s rulership as part of the UK. 


Kevin, played by Jackson Paul, is a shy Catholic non-confrontational late teen working in a local scrapyard whilst courting feisty Protestant Sadie (Julie Collins). She hates her boring job in the hat department and won’t let the rift in Belfast and religion stop her from seeing the man she loves. The two actors have a good rapport despite Collins seeming a little older than the younger Paul. 


Both actors attempt the difficult “Norn Arelant” (Northern Ireland) accents with varying degrees of success. Indeed, all ten of the cast of CTG actors are to be commended for their bravery in emulating the notoriously difficult accent throughout the play.


Actors James Sheehan as Sadie’s brother Tommy Jackson and Virginia Gray as Brede Mc Coy, Kevin’s sister play the dutiful siblings well. James Enright is a terrifying staunch IRA supporter and supposed friend of Kevin. Jessica Gould is new to CTG, giving a rousing performance as the bolshy and opinionated friend.


Erik de Wit plays Sadie’s father, a staunch orange man and also Sadie’s caring old teacher, and a lifeline for the couple, Mr Blake, which he does particularly well. 


Nick Cockcroft plays the comical Uncle Albert with gusto, and the angry neighbour Mr Mullet, whose outfits are very similar, leading to some confusion between the roles.


The stage is simple but very effective, with a central barricade of props dividing the stage into two. It causes the actors to step across the barricade, cleverly signalling a transition between factions. A large screen also helps to set each scene with photographs of specific locations.


The storyline is divided into twenty scenes and is a romantic but harrowing tale highlighting the sheer endurance of love, regardless of physical or social boundaries. The CTG has delivered an entertaining and endearing production highlighting the commonality of serious issues caused by the division of Ireland.


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