Marie Jones has written a one-man play about a Protestant dole clerk in Belfast waking up to himself and realising that he is not just a Protestant man … he is also an Irish man.
It all begins one night in November when Kenneth is forced to take his father-in-law, Ernie, to a World Cup qualifying match between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. Ernie is a vicious bigot, filled with racist bile and hatred towards the Catholics and this is echoed throughout the Belfast stadium, making Kenneth ashamed of his own tribe.
Ernie, you are low life at its lowest, you are the foulest human being that I have ever had the misfortune to know … you know if you were dead I wish I could be the first maggot to eat at your festered brain … the first worm to bore into your stinking heart, the first dog to shite on your grave and the last person to see you alive because then I could say all this to you, but I can’t Ernie, because I look around me and there are hundreds of Ernies and I am numb …
And so Kenneth doesn’t say a word, swallows his anger and pretends everything is fine. But something inside him has changed and he can’t keep pretending. Each day gets harder and cracks begin to appear in his demeanor.
Like Stones in His Pocket, A Night in November is a tour de force play for an actor. The solo actor in this play takes on dozens of parts during a two-act monologue. It’s laugh aloud funny in parts and a heavy burden in others. Reading it I felt sure that Marie Jones must be a Catholic, writing this play as a way of getting back at the Protestants. But it appears that she is a Belfast Protestant, just like her protagonist, which makes me wonder whether this play is an over zealous apology for being born on the wrong side of the fence during ‘The Troubles’. It reminds me of the sort of middle class guilt that makes white people write books with evil white oppressors and saintly dark skinned victims.
But perhaps I’m reading too much into what is undeniably a feel good sort of a play. The oppressor realises the errors of his ways, turns his back on his bigoted and small-minded friends, neighbours and family and opens his arms to his countrymen…all through the power of Football in the form of the 1994 World Cup played between Ireland and Italy in New York. But there’s an uncomfortable undertow. To get to the happy ending, Kenneth lies to his wife and family, sneaks a suitcase out of the house and takes off on a plane without telling anyone where he’s going. He leaves his family, his job and his old life behind him in the way you’d discard old slippers.
Earlier in the play he talks about his wife using all her will and determination to do her aerobics, clean the house, make sure the children pass their exams, the endless round of sacrifice:
We are the perfect Prods, we come in kits, we are standard regulation, we come from the one design, like those standard kitchens with the exact spaces for standard cookers and fridges, our dimensions never vary and that’s the way we want it, but what happens when the kit is put together and the appliances don’t fit the spaces … what happens … chaos, mayhem and we can’t cope, we can’t cope.
Kenneth’s way of coping is to run away from it all.
Publisher: Nick Hern Books (published along with Stones in His Pockets)