Arts, Uncategorized

Review: Freedom at the UEA Drama Studio

Freedom begins in 1993; Ronan Donaghy’s family is torn apart when he is arrested following an IRA attack in Bishopsgate, London. Devastated and in turmoil over the accusation, Ronan’s loved ones attempt to make sense of the unfathomable. One pressing question unites them– who planted the bomb? As the play unfolds, it becomes clear that Aoife – Ronan’s younger sister – faces her own separate dilemma. She finds herself faced with an impossible decision – she can save Ronan at the cost of her lover’s freedom.

Alongside this conflict between familial devotion and romantic love, Eavann Mallon expertly presents the complex relationship between the past and the present. The bomb explosion incites Aoife (Rachel Nicholson) and Ronan (Will Owen) to confront their estrangement, powerfully contrasted with scenes from their childhood in which their stereotypical squabbles are both endearing and relatable. They perform sensationally in their roles as brother and sister, delivering each line with such rawness that renders it impossible for anyone watching not to invest in their plight.

The exemplary stage management effectively reflects their complex relationship; Aoife and Ronan spend the majority of the play on opposite sides of the stage, reflecting the impenetrable distance that has grown between them in adulthood. However, this distance is powerfully countered later in the play when they sing a song from their childhood in unison. Nicholson and Owen create a heart-wrenching scene of unity and strength in the face of injustice and turbulence. Music is also effectively paired with set changes, permitting a sombre atmosphere in which the audience can reflect on the fast-paced action.

The relationship between Ronan and his life-long friend Denis (Louis Williams), although perhaps less affecting, is just as charming. Their playful banter provides some vital comedic relief to the sensitive subject matter. The constant reflection of their teenage selves permits the audience to understand the intricate nature of each character, whilst also juxtaposing with the turbulent present. However, by no means are Aoife, Ronan and Dennis permitted a carefree adolescence. Political unrest reverberates through each of their narratives, as depicted during a conversation between Dennis and Aoife, during which he asks her if Ronan’s role in the IRA can be seen as a job. She replies simply, “[t]hat depends on your perspective”, a statement which becomes painfully relevant later in the play when she is burdened with an impossible decision. Subsequently, Dennis declares his love for Aoife: a powerful message about how love continues to exist even in the darkest of times.

Ronan’s Father (Gregor Joseph Lawrence) also explores the complexity of “perspective” during a conversation with Ronan’s Mother (Becky Pick). He describes The Troubles and the branding of many Irishmen as terrorists, exclaiming that nothing is “black and white”. The declaration illustrates how a one-sided view creates a dangerous disregard for history, a concept that is particularly poignant in today’s political climate. In the face of conflict, Freedom presents how a family’s unity is an invaluable force. It depicts siblings who find a way back to each other in the most unlikely of circumstances, Minotaur Theatre Company ensuring that we are with Aoife and Ronan every step of the way.

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January 2022
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