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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me on Twitter at MarkFFisher, WriteAboutTheat and LimelightXTC I am a freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers. I am also editor of The XTC Bumper Book of Fun for Boys and Girls: A Limelight Anthology. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide.
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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Defender of the Faith

Published in the Guardian © Mark Fisher

Defender of the Faith

Tron, Glasgow
2 out of 5

The first defender of the faith was Sir Thomas More. Unwilling to sign up to Henry VIII's Protestant church, he was beheaded. For his commitment to Catholicism, he was made a saint. Fast-forward 450 years to Stuart Carolan's play and another Thomas is born. His role as defender of the faith, however, is altogether less high-minded. This is the Northern Ireland of 1986 and Thomas is in an IRA cell run by his ferocious father, Joe, who has become convinced there is an informer in their midst.

The fate of informers during the Troubles is well documented, so it's no surprise things end gruesomely for two of the leads. As the executioner of one, Thomas assumes the role of his namesake, but the faith he is defending is a dull echo of the religion for which More gave his life. The world Carolan paints is one of loveless brutality, the men's culture defined not by any positive virtue, but by hatred of an unseen enemy. Not even the informers appear motivated by altruism; their betrayals are the opportunistic acts of men with neither love nor loyalty.

Tellingly, the only woman referred to, Thomas's mother, is hidden away in a mental hospital. This is a world where masculine values have run rampant, unchecked by the traditionally feminine qualities of empathy and kindness. When Joe starts a row about a misplaced spoon, it is as if he has latched on to a symbol of a domesticity for which he has no instinctive feeling. If he is fighting for a cause, it is one he is incapable of articulating.

All this is communicated with an appropriately hard edge in Andy Arnold's naturalistic production, Lewis Howden bringing a fiery rage to the part of Joe, and Martin McCormick capturing Thomas's transition from idealist to zealot. If only the script wasn't so laboured. It lasts just 90 minutes, yet every scene is twice the length it needs to be, with too much talk and too little action. With more twists, it could have been a thriller; and with more insight, a psychological drama. Being neither, it meanders to an ending that is far from incendiary.

© Mark Fisher

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