Theatre reviews: Cyprus Avenue | Peter Pan Goes Wrong

In Cyprus Avenue at the Pavilion, the great David Hayman gives what might just be the performance of a lifetime, writes Joyce McMillan

Cyprus Avenue, Pavilion Theatre, Glasgow *****

Peter Pan Goes Wrong, Playhouse, Edinburgh ****

Tuesday night at the Pavilion Theatre in Glasgow; and former Tron artistic director Andy Arnold stands up at the front of the stalls to introduce his brilliant 2023 production of David Ireland’s sensational play Cyprus Avenue, one of the first Scottish-made shows to appear at the Pavilion since it was taken over by Trafalgar Entertainment, 11 months ago.

In some ways, it feels like a historic moment, as this gorgeous theatre – one of Glasgow’s great homes of popular entertainment – reaches out to rejoin the Scottish theatre family, and, with its 1,400 seats, to offer a much larger audience to successful shows premiered elsewhere; and up on stage, Becky Minto’s brilliantly understated set looks magnificent, subtly expanded, but still – with its gauzy shades of grey – a coolly domestic arena in which a tale of terrible violence plays itself out.

Hide Ad

At the centre of the show, of course, stands the star whose performance brings the audience to its feet, after a blisteringly intense 100 minutes. David Hayman plays Eric, the tormented ageing Loyalist at the centre of David Ireland’s drama, which is set in leafy Cyprus Avenue, a couple of miles from downtown Belfast; and the ease with which he reaches out to the larger audience at the Pavilion, with that great actors’ ability to make a big space feel both intimate and exciting, is the measure of the brilliance of his award-winning performance.

The play is a shocking one; and it is in some ways doubly terrible to watch it during the present events in Gaza, where the mass slaughter of children has somehow come to seem, to some, both acceptable and necessary. Eric is an intelligent man, living in Belfast in the early 2000s, well aware that the Troubles are over and that he is living in new times. Yet when he takes his first close look at his new baby granddaughter, some demon from the past possesses him. He becomes convinced that the child is the living image of Gerry Adams, then President of Sinn Fein; and after accusing his daughter of adultery with Adams, settles for the idea that wee Mary Mae is not Adams’s child, but Adams himself, in disguised form.

Ireland’s multiple award-winning play, first seen in London in 2016, is therefore not only shockingly, hilariously funny, but also, as Eric’s madness plays out, breathtakingly tragic and horrific. In Andy Arnold’s pitch-perfect, fast-paced staging, Hayman is brilliantly supported by Ann Louise Ross as his terrified wife Bernie, and Sinead Sharkey as his daughter; and if you want to see one of Scotland’s finest actors giving what might just be the performance of a lifetime, in a play that really matters, then the Pavilion is the place to be this weekend.

Cyprus Avenue PIC: Mihaela BodlovicCyprus Avenue PIC: Mihaela Bodlovic
Cyprus Avenue PIC: Mihaela Bodlovic

If you prefer a bit of ultra-daft fun and slapstick, though, then you could hardly do better than to head for the Playhouse in Edinburgh, or Glasgow’s Theatre Royal next week, for a swift two hours of Mischief Theatre’s Peter Pan Goes Wrong. In essence, the Mischief shows are extended Crackerjack sketches, sending familiar aspects of the culture up rotten, and spinning out at some length the same joke about collapsing sets, dodgy electrics, and violent outbreaks of lust or hatred among the actors.

In its current touring version, though, Peter Pan Goes Wrong is an absolute classic of the genre, with a hilariously hazardous revolving set, and a cast of 10 – plus nine backstage technicians – whose commitment, wit, and athleticism is not only impressive, but downright lovable. It’s not Shakespeare, in other words, or even JM Barrie; but it’s a skilful, good-hearted and hugely energetic show, and it will distract you from the woes of the world for a while, if anything ever could.

Cyprus Avenue is at the Pavilion Theatre, Glasgow until 2 March. Peter Pan Goes Wrong is at the Playhouse, Edinburgh, until 2 March, and at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow, 4-9 March.