by David Woods and Jon Hough
Performance Works, Granville Island
January 18 - 22
604-257-0366 or

Imagine a play about Quebec, full of Newfie jokes and references to Surrey, Whalley, Jasey-Jay Anderson and Avril Lavigne, performed by two Vancouver actors in England. Imagine that one of the actors plays a character who speaks very quickly in an almost incomprehensibly thick Quebecois accent. And the conversation consists mostly of non sequiturs. That’s a little like the sometimes bewildering experience I had watching Say Nothing, a jaundiced comic view of Northern Ireland presented by the English company Ridiculusmus as part of the PuSh Festival.

Rather than presenting the sectarian violence of Northern Ireland as tragic, this show finds it absurd. Two men stand in a small open suitcase filled with green turf, no doubt representing the Emerald Isle, and spray saliva in each other’s faces. Kevin (David Woods), an Englishman with a Ph.D. in Peace and Conflict Studies, has come to Derry to do feel-good “conflict resolution work” with representatives of the warring sides. The other actor (Jon Hough) alternately plays Sally, an insipid landlady whose room Kevin keeps trying to rent (he ends up sleeping in his car), and Frank (“I’m Frank by nature”), a mistrustful local whose thick brogue even Kevin finds hard to understand. Sally’s characteristic response to whatever Kevin says is, “Lovely. Cuppa tea?” Frank’s refrain is to growl angrily to his wife, “Mary, there’s a Br-r-rit here!”

Some of the exchanges are pretty funny, though maybe not if you were Northern Irish. At one point Kevin gushes sentimentally, “It’s like heaven here, it’s like my spiritual home.” Sally answers, “I know what you mean, Kevin. It’s depressing.” The picture postcard Ireland of romantic cliché is completely blown apart in a ferocious riff between Kevin and Frank, which starts with “traditional Irish music” and escalates to “traditional Irish bastards” and “traditional Irish pipe-bombs.” Both actors are highly skilled. Woods comically shapes Kevin’s growing exasperation in the face of these Irish who never stop talking yet ultimately “say nothing.” Hough makes the abrupt transitions from benign landlady to psycho nationalist seem utterly natural without ever moving from that grassy suitcase.

But I would really have liked sur-titles for much of the time when Frank was speaking, or a glossary to explain what the UDA is, or who Christy Moore was (“before he hit the pint-of-sherry-for-breakfast phase”), or what “Decommission This” means, scrawled on the rusty iron fence that serves as backdrop—or at least a program. I figure I got maybe a quarter of the references and a third of the gags. Culturally specific satire can be great, but you’ve got to let the audience in on the joke.

Jerry Wasserman

last updated: Wednesday, January 19, 2005 4:41 PM
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