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  • Miles Hedley

JADE CITY at The Bunker in Southwark

Updated: Sep 9, 2019

The harrowing damage to mental health caused by poverty, lack of opportunity and official indifference is the theme of Alice Malseed’s fine new play Jade City, now running at The Bunker in Southwark.

The uncompromising drama tells the story of working-class Belfast mates Sas and Monty (Brendan Quinn and Barry Calvert) who act out increasingly bizarre fantasies as a way of fighting the despair they see all around them in Northern Ireland, where a third of the population lives on or below the breadline and where there have been more suicides since the Good Friday Agreement than deaths during the Troubles.

My initial response to their games was one of scepticism – would two grown men really behave like that? But I realised I was wrong as soon as I remembered that many adults find respite in computer games, which surely Sas and Monty would also do if only they weren’t skint. And once I accepted that, I came to love their fantasies, which ranged from paramilitary nightmares to surreal ones involving singing binmen.

Director Katherine Nesbitt has cleverly set the action in a boxing ring which not only speaks of the current of violence that underpins the whole story but also acts as a cage for the men.

And the claustrophobic sense of hopelessness grows thicker as the games unfold, revealing the pair’s true feelings about life, about each other and about themselves as they struggle to come to terms with their lot – and with the consequences of a terrible crime in their past.

Quinn and Calvert are superb as the childhood buddies forced to confront the sometimes horrible reality of their lives. And Nesbitt skilfully guides them through a plot that throbs with humanity and the province’s famous dark humour but also pulls no punches about the violent cost of deprivation and toxic masculinity.

The title of the play refers to the friends’ local takeaway where they can no longer afford even the cheapest dish. It also, of course, symbolises how depression and despair have jaded entire generations of cash-strapped youngsters in Ulster and the wider UK.

Malseed has written a drama that is at times bleak, often funny and always truthful. It is also important because it exposes the appalling price some people have to pay for political point-scoring. For more details and to book tickets for the show, which runs till 21 September, go to

Picture: Ali Wright

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