John McCann’s one-man show DUPed is a wry and incisive look at the political and social influence of the Reverend Ian Paisley and the Democratic Unionist Party – the titular DUP. It’s a production borne not only out of frustration at the DUP’s conservative policies and their effect on his native Northern Ireland, but also at the rest of the UK’s apathy towards, and ignorance of, Northern Irish politics, the interest of most of the country only recently stirred in the face of the DUP’s now-disproportionate political influence, gained in the wake of the last general election.
Inspired by a conversation in a pub in Scotland – where he now lives – DUPed is a sort of homecoming for McCann. Travelling back to Northern Ireland, he speaks to a loose selection of people who can offer him insight into the DUP, its history and its influence: from the LGBTQ campaigner who is an outspoken critic of the party’s stance on equal rights to the ex-prisoner giving a tour of the now-closed courthouse where he was convicted of his crimes. McCann revisits his home town, recalling his own childhood experience of the Troubles, and talks of an uncle forever changed by having to identify the body of one of its victims.
The piece utilises a mix of audio recordings, direct quotes and anecdotes, from Paisley’s firebrand speeches about the sins of Catholicism to today’s sermons, where Islam is the new Big Bad – the target changing, the language staying the same. It examines not just the pervasive poison of sectarianism – where even schoolkids can give you a definitive list of how to tell Catholics and Protestants apart – but the human cost of the wider UK deciding that, with the Troubles no longer on the nightly news, Northern Ireland doesn’t matter. Who cares if same-sex couples can’t get married, or women are still denied their reproductive rights?
Directed by Erasmus Mackenna, DUPed makes much of McGann’s easy, amiable presence. He’s a personable, likeable performer who imbues the piece with enough humour that it doesn’t descend into the depressing polemic it could so easily become. The production doesn’t always hang together as well as it could – it jumps around a lot, feels oddly devoid of narrative momentum, and not all of the audio is as clear as it could be. But this thoughtful – and thought-provoking – production is a timely piece of political theatre that deserves to be widely seen.
DUPed was on at Live Theatre from 2-3 April. It tours to Tron in Glasgow and Dundee Rep until 8th April. More info here.