THE BOAT FACTORY
by Dan Gordon.
King’s Head Theatre 115 Upper Street N1 1QN To 17 August 2013.
Tue-Sat 7.15pm Sun 3pm.
RUNS 1hr 30min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7478 0160.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 25 July.
Little lives amid great ships, and truthful about both.
There were 3526 deaths in the 32 years from 1969 during the Northern Ireland Troubles. In one night in 1912 there were 1,502 died on a big boat out of Belfast. Dan Gordon’s play looks at a life untroubled much by the Troubles, and as for the so-called Boat Factory where his characters work – the once-mighty Harland & Wolff shipyard where many Belfast men (Protestants especially) worked – as they say more than once, there was nothing wrong with the Titanic when it left them.
The shipyard’s mapped across the stage (designer uncredited) like a town in itself. Neither Titanic nor Troubles cause the problem here, which start with the Canberra, launched in 1960. Poor costings and specification disputes brought a big hole to H & W, while jet travel superseded liners, turning days to hours in travelling the world.
Nothing so simple as redundancy hits the two characters here. Author Dan Gordon plays his near namesake with a sense of belonging. Davy might be scared of heights when he climbs the giant cranes, but he’s at home in the yards. It’s only the world outside that leaves him seeming awkward.
He’s a generation older than Michael Condron’s joking, confident Geordie. As they talk together they seem equals in age, giving the aspect of a memory-play to much of the action. And Geordie is in the memory of his friend, whose slow death from industrial disease leaves him around long years after Condron’s character’s offsite accident.
Davy’s our narrator, taking us into the world of the shipyard and of his home, its routine and rituals of his father’s behaviour. It’s earthy, unglamorous, and absolutely convincing.
A couple of skeletal metal towers at the sides allow the sense of height as the pair clamber up and sit atop them for a long time, having found their own temporary world up there.
The two are well-contrasted; Condron’s cheery Geordie, who knows his way around when the young Davy arrives, is like a boat tossed on the glinting, breezy sea, and Gordon’s Davy the anchor who becomes rooted in a way of Belfast life.
Davy Gordon: Dan Gordon.
Geordie Kilpatrick: Michael Condron.
Director: Philip Crawford.
Composer: Chris Warner.
Costume: Lisa Lavery.