'Citizen' by Vincent Higgins, presented by Replay Theatre Co.

'Citizen' by Vincent Higgins, presented by Replay Theatre Co.

'Citizen' by Vincent Higgins, presented by Replay Theatre Co.

'Citizen' by Vincent Higgins, presented by Replay Theatre Co.

Tomorrow is upon us. The current recession is a thing of the past. President Bono is the head of state. World food riots have resulted in the introduction of draconian new policies to control rationing and immigration. If we think today’s economic and political situation is lamentable, Vincent Higgins’ astute, insightful new play strongly suggests that things could get worse, much worse.

This satirical 50-minute piece for teenagers is directed with pace and a penchant for the subversive by Replay’s new artistic director Anna Newell. It paints the picture of a dystopian future, which we may prefer not to imagine. But in spite of its small local difficulties, people from all over the world are lining up to become citizens of this undervalued country, whose indigenous population takes for granted the basic human rights so desperately sought by those facing persecution in their own native lands.

The audience has a role to play in representing a gathering of junior citizens. They are addressed by two delegates from the Supreme Council, one of them an oddball sociopath, who admits to having more in common with giraffes than with humans. They are tasked with giving these fresh-faced citizens-to-be a massive confidence boost, while hinting at their good fortune in being fully paid-up members of an enlightened, civilised, democratic society.

Meanwhile, three office cleaners reflect on the ways in which their mundane everyday existences are threatened by the rules and regulations put in place by the new dispensation. One of them, a young musician, is nervously awaiting the result of the stringent immigration selection, which could make or break his life’s ambition. At the other end of the generational scale, an elderly woman shares her wisdom and recipe for survival, shocking her detractors with memories of dancing with Hitler and Che Guevara, and offering a profound life-enhancing message based on fun and tolerance.

'Citizen' by Vincent Higgins, presented by Replay Theatre Co.Niall Rea’s utilitarian, sharp-edged staging chimes perfectly with local band Silhouette’s powerful original soundtrack and an arresting live video relay trained closely on the faces of the Council personnel. The three-strong, ever-present cast (Shaun Blaney, Kerry Cleland, Julie Maxwell) switch roles and costumes with stylish assurance and their performances are unanimously honest, humorous and knowing.

Everything about this cleverly complete piece of theatre is entirely age appropriate, sending thought-provoking messages into the restless consciousness of its audience. Particularly effective are the closely focused, blue-lit scenes in which three aspiring immigrants reveal their hopes and dreams. They do not ask for much – a better life, health care, friendship, kindness, personal safety, freedom, justice, dignity.

But Higgins does not stop there. The play also makes an eloquent plea for the artist in exile. With food in short supply, only one artist can be admitted to the country every year and the panel must decide between the writer, the singer and the painter, who all see their creative futures within these shores. There is much to be admired and enjoyed within the complex structure and multi-layered themes of this intriguing and important piece, which signals a new phase in the long, distinguished history of Replay.

Jane Coyle is a Belfast based arts journalist, performing arts critic and screenwriter, who also reviews for The Irish Times and The Stage.

  • Review
  • Theatre

Citizen by Vincent Higgins

2 - 18 March, 2011; on tour.

Produced by Replay Theatre Company
In Newtownbreda High School, Belfast

Directed by Anna Newell

Design: Niall Rea

Soundtrack: Silhouette

With: Shaun Blaney, Kerry Cleland, Julie Maxwell