The Troubles with Harry

By Gill Canning

Emma Diaz, Adam Sollis, Ariadne Sgouros, Mabel Li & Raj Labade. Photo: Brett Boardman
Emma Diaz, Adam Sollis, Ariadne Sgouros, Mabel Li & Raj Labade. Photo: Brett Boardman
'Never Closer' sees five young friends in 1987 Northern Ireland have their relationships put to the test.

It’s 1977 in Derry, Northern Ireland and friends Niamh, Deidre, Mary, Jimmy and Conor have just finished high school and are about to embark on adult life. Having shared their teen years, along with seemingly copious amounts of alcohol, cigarettes and ghost stories, the five of them step out of the safety of Deidre’s cosy family home into whatever future awaits them.

Fast forward 10 years later and it’s Christmas Eve. Deidre, now a schoolteacher, is in a half-hearted relationship with Conor who is the closest thing in the group to a Republican and whose immediate family has been the most affected by the Troubles between the largely Catholic IRA and the Protestant unionists.  

Jimmy, whose ambition was to be a singer in Dublin, has stayed on the family farm, all the while holding an unrequited candle for Deidre; and Mary, who has burnt professional bridges at home, is about to leave Derry and try on New York for size. The four are in Dee’s family home, now somewhat messier and shabbier since the death of her mother. 

To their shared surprise, in walks Niamh who went to London to study medicine 10 years ago and never returned once to see her best friends, not even for their parents’ funerals. Thing are tense, and they get even tenser when Niamh introduces her fiancé, Harry, an English barrister whom some of the group potentially still consider to be the enemy.

Mabel Li, Raj Labade, Ariadne Sgouros & Emma Diaz. Photo Brett Boardman.

A strong debut

Confidently directed by Hannah Goodwin, Never Closer is the debut play of writer Grace Chapple. She clearly has an ear for dialogue (her mother grew up in Ireland) and the young cast is uniformly strong. However I found some of the characterisation to be slightly shallow, eg Harry the clever but clueless Pom (“I don’t mind a cheeky Lager”) set against Connor the nationalistic, unforgiving Irishman, with perennial funny girl Mary peace making and attempting to defuse any antagonism. 

However the night was entertaining and there is a genuinely shocking moment in the second act at which I gasped, which I think the play needed to remind the audience that what we were watching was not just a bunch of twentysomethings squabbling over political/religious differences.

Never Closer

Belvoir St Theatre

Until 16 June, 2024


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