Not Now review – sparky comedy about Belfast, belonging and the Bard | Theatre

Matthew is nervously running through his lines as he readies himself for a drama-school audition. He has chosen the “Now is the winter of our discontent” speech from Richard III, but as he scratches his jumper nervously, he is a better fit for Hamlet.

Played by Martin Quinn, all floppy hair and skinny jeans, he is mourning his father and vacillating about his future. To do or not to do the audition; that is the question.

So far so Shakespearean, except Harry Ward’s Ray, beyond being Matthew’s uncle, has nothing in common with Claudius. He is a painter and decorator with an invented love life and a better knowledge of Stephen King than of the classics. And his knowledge of Stephen King stretches to one book.

All this would be fun if it were just a jolly send-up of theatrical pretence, but playwright David Ireland takes his lunchtime comedy for A Play, a Pie and a Pint several steps further. Behind the laughs in director Becky Hope-Palmer’s sharply timed production is a study of cultural invisibility.

It isn’t only that Matthew instinctively defaults to RP to impress the teachers at Rada (pronounced “radar” by his uncle), it is also that even his own Protestant Belfast community is conflicted about its identity. He and Ray squabble over whether they are British, Northern Irish, Irish or some combination, while considering the irony of turning on the Irish charm to fellow British citizens in London.

Ireland has raised similar questions more explosively in plays such as Cyprus Avenue and Ulster American, but as Matthew and Ray accept the truth about themselves, Not Now makes for a sparky comedy about heritage and hope.

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