You know the way only your siblings can trigger deep-rooted, at-times-uncomfortable and almost always childish emotions and reactions to things? Well, All Mod Cons is a compelling examination of just that. It’s a brand new comedy-drama and the professional debut of playwright and the Lyric’s artist-in-residence Erica Murray which premiered at the theatre last week and runs until 09 June.
The play follows estranged siblings Jean and Gary who are suddenly thrown back together after the death of their mother. On the surface things look different, Jean’s return home after eight years reveals her gender transition and Gary has grown from teenage thug to ‘woke hipster,’ but little has changed. When old friend and useless estate agent Ian offers to help them find a place together, long-buried family tensions threaten to derail their already strained relationship. But don’t think that because there is a trans character, that this is a ‘trans’ play (if there is such a thing!) – what is so great is that the trans character is a family member just like her brother, and is integral to the storyline, but isn’t the storyline in and of itself.
All Mod Cons is a play that explores our capacity to accept change - in others as well as ourselves. It is directed by Ronan Phelan and features a stellar cast of Mariah Louca (Jean), Michael Shea (Gary), Chris McCurry (Ian) and Sophie Robinson (Laura). For playwright Erica Murray, it was essential that the role of Jean was authentically represented. With this in mind, the casting call required a trans actor to play the role. Following auditions earlier this year, the Lyric was delighted to cast Mariah Louca in what will be her professional debut role. She plays it really well too, although her accent doesn’t always match the rest of the cast - but that is a hypercritical (and probably unnecessary and unfair) observation, given that her character changed sex and lived abroad for almost a decade. I know my accent changed when I lived in Europe for a few years. In any case, Mariah gave us a super strong debut performance despite a difficult storyline, with two very uncomfortable twists in the tale as the play progresses. I felt sorry for her in one of the situations and I was so genuinely angry with her character in another – but won’t spoil the story for you here. And speaking of angry, I was uncomfortably pissed off with all the characters at various moments – and that is a great thing, because art is supposed to evoke emotion.
Michael Shea gives us a great Gary, annoying little swaggering shit that he still is, despite embracing change and giving us some tender moments too. Chris McCurry as Ian swings from pathetic to predator and back to pathetic again – and he is as brilliant as his character is desperate. Sophie Robinson was awesome as the bossy brat Laura, I saw so many people I know in her character – and I loved and loathed the character in equal measure. All in all this play was cast perfectly. I had absolutely no idea what I was coming to see and left feeling slightly drained and emotional at the depth of evocative writing and delivery on stage. It was fantastic.
Erica Murray, who wrote All Mod Cons, said: “All Mod Cons is a relationship drama between siblings Gary and Jean. Gary is trying to show Jean that he’s changed just as much as she has in the 8 years they’ve been apart. It was important to me that the character of Jean was represented correctly therefore it was important that we cast a trans actor in the role. The play isn’t a trans story, it’s not about Jean’s journey to becoming a trans woman, although that journey is an integral part of her character. I am delighted that Mariah is playing the role of Jean. She is an exceptional actor. Watching all of our talented cast bring the play from page to stage and working with Ronan Phelan has been a very special journey for me. I can’t wait for audiences to see it.”
Executive Producer for Lyric, Jimmy Fay added: “We are delighted to debut Erica Murray’s All Mod Cons to Lyric audiences. Following on from the casting of Rebecca Root, as the first trans actor in a professional role to take to the Irish stage in Rathmines Road at The Abbey Theatre in Dublin, this will be the first time a trans actor has been cast in a professional role at the Lyric Theatre. This is yet another fantastic opportunity to celebrate and showcase the acting talent from our diverse communities and on a Northern Ireland stage.”
Looking forward to her professional debut as Jean in All Mod Cons, Mariah Louca commented: “When I first read All Mod Cons I was hooked from the outset. Erica has written a stunning piece of work that really looks at the notion of transformation by dissecting how we view ourselves vs how the world views us. I wanted to be a part of this story especially as it doesn’t rely on stereotypical tropes of the trans experience. Integrating a trans character into a wider more universal storyline helps further the trans narrative and I’m proud of the Lyric for being a part of that progression.”
All Mod Cons is supported by Arts Council of Northern Ireland National Lottery funding.
Performances run from 18 May – 9 June, with preview performances from 18 - 21 May at 8.00pm (Tues – Sat) and 2.45pm (Sat & Sun Matinee). Tickets from £10.00 - £18.00 available now at www.lyrictheatre.co.uk or 028 9038 1081.