Review: Behind Closed Walls at Brockley Jack Studio Theatre

Thursday 27th October 2022 at Brockley Jack Studio Theatre, London.


Reviewer: Emma Dorfman

Alternate-history plays, for the most part, have the tendency to be more alien than not. Unfamiliar, dystopic worlds often mean a lot of work on the audience’s part to “figure out” this unfamiliar territory. With Behind Closed Walls, however, writer Daryl J. Blair has created an eerily familiar world: One of the country’s biggest fears materializes as The Troubles play out again in this alternate (but still post-Brexit) world. Blair, as the writer, director, and actor in the piece, alongside Tiernan Mullane, has created a beautifully bare-bones two-hander full of twists and turns that leave us guessing what it would take for the deepest of tensions to fully simmer.

Blair’s writing and direction, first and foremost, propel us into action right away, and Blair is, admirably, more a fan of showing the plot than telling us the whole Republic of Ireland/Northern Ireland debacle. Through Blair’s visceral sound design, we are instantly surrounded by a flurry of news announcements warning of a post-Brexit revival of The Troubles. Instantly, I was brought back to pre-Brexit Britain. 2019. The most of the British public worries was not necessarily import duties or relations with other EU countries, but rather, how the situation in Ireland might worsen yet again. Already, the alt-history doesn’t feel so “alt,” but it’s looking pretty plausible.

A man sits center stage in a chair with a black hood on his face. His hands are tied to a wooden chair. He is weary. There are a few shovels behind him, some cans of paint, industrial materials. My intrigue is certainly piqued. As Blair’s character, Shea, enters, I can’t seem to take my eyes off his feet. He’s jumpy, uncertain, and for a moment, I’m unsure if it’s his acting or his character. This habit quickly softened as the other character, Gary (Mullane), begins to speak. I know I’m not British, but is that a put-on British accent? Without spoiling too much, it certainly is, and both of these seemingly actor-ly mistakes end up being crucial to the narrative itself.

And as the story unfolds, it presents a series of alternate realities that truly make any outcome possible. Is Shea a triple agent, for instance? How can we trust him fully? Is the friendship between Gary and Shea enough, or are nationalism, pride, and patriotism a higher priority? Without giving too much of the plot away, these questions are never fully answered. And perhaps this is because Blair is not necessarily giving any answers but is more interested in the problem. What is the source of The Troubles? And why are we so quick to forget the fight?

Behind Closed Walls plays at Brockley Jack Studio Theatre until October 29th 2022 – you can find more information and tickets here.

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