“For one magical moment it was raining real cats and dogs”
Ulster playwright Stewart Parker’s play Spokesong is a curious thing indeed, melding the troubled times of the Troubles with a rather romantic tale of love, bicycles and regular people just getting on. Parker adroitly identifies that even in the most chaotic of situations with bombs exploding down the road, the business of day-to-day life doesn’t really stop and the battles that people have to face don’t always involve guns.
So we see devoted bike shop owner Frank blinking less of an eye at the bombs than at local schoolteacher Daisy to whom he has taken quite the shine. And as much threat as in a balaclava comes with the arrival of his estranged brother Julian from London, a feckless photojournalist with a yen for trouble. Frank is appalled at council plans to drive a motorway right through his neighbourhood and comes up with a plan for the city to invest in free bikes instead.
Not only that, but Parker delves back into time to give us the story of Frank’s grandparents who set up the shop in the late-Victorian era, and also gives us a vaudevillean commenter in the form of the Trick Cyclist who introduces a sharper comic edge and delivers the songs that are scattered throughout the play. What emerges is a keenly observed portrait of the Troubles, given both historical context and contemporary resonance in Guy Jones’ well-judged production.
Stephen Cavanagh and Elly Condron give lovely performances as the idealistic Frank and the pragmatic Daisy, trying to navigate their way through the troubled climate with gentle care. And Ben Callon’s Trick Cyclist is an impressive presence with his Emcee-like character and also in a number of cameo roles. But the heart of the show lies with Melanie McHugh and Jack Power as the turn of the century lovers navigating suffragism and the Great War to set in motion the wheels for grandson Frank’s journey.