Tuesday 7 March 2023


Theatre review: Under the Black Rock at the Arcola Theatre

“We all live under the black rock, and we will all be buried under it.”

A brand new play opened at the Arcola Theatre in London's Hackney this week: Under the Black Rock by debut playwright Tim Edge.

The Arcola is an intimate theatre space where the stage is almost surrounded by the audience, which is a good match for this intense play. As the audience entered the auditorium, most of us were immediately struck by the staging; four people lined up in a seated position, their faces covered by cloth bags. 

They were still and silent, waiting for the play to begin.

The majority of the action is set at the time when the British troops were present in Northern Ireland, which is the backdrop for many of the conversations and accusations about family and community members likely to betray “the cause”. The play focuses on the effects of the Troubles within one specific family, the father of which is heavily involved with acts of violence and terror.

Evanna Lynch stars as Niamh, and one of her earlier lines is “I’ll prove you wrong”, which she says with conviction to her father Cashel (John Nayagam). It’s her story that shows us a glimpse into the planning and mental attitudes of those behind some of the ‘strategic’ acts of violence.

The gradual realisation that everyone in the community is in some way related to acts of terror is jarring, as are the resulting torture scenes, which were so realistic it forced audience members to look away. The powerful performances bring that part of history to light and remind us just how recent it is; we’re only coming up to 25 years now since The Good Friday Agreement.

While the subject matter and much of the script is dark, some humorous moments are provided by the part of Mary O'Brien (Elizabeth Counsell), who serves almost as a narrator and a go-between. Her conversations with Father Paul Flynn (Keith Dunphy) in particular give the audience some lighter moments as well as context for the more fast-paced scenes.

Harry Potter’s Evanna Lynch is naturally the choice for the poster, and gives a strong performance as young Niamh, but this production is very much a collaboration, with every single actor shining in the roles they play. 

Under the Black Rock is a creatively staged production about the Troubles in Northern Ireland, filled with powerhouse actors. And while the set and props are minimal, they are used creatively – serving to magnify the individual performances and making for smooth transitions between events. 

Under the Black Rock is playing at the Arcola Theatre until 25 March 2023 and you can book your tickets here.

Production photo credit: Gregory Haney

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