Ransom Productions based in Belfast have put on belters of plays in the past, taking a punt on new writing from here and putting it on stage to critical acclaim.
Highlights include Robert Welch's "Protestants" and Richard Dormer's "Hurricane". Their latest production is their bravest to date. A double bill from David Ireland (the Lyric Theatre's writer in residence and recent Meyer-Whitworth award prize winner) and Robert Welch (author of the Oxford Companion to Irish Literature).
I say brave, because both plays push the envelope of taboos in our society. In particular, Ireland's play "Yes So I said Yes" which shows male rape and bestiality, all performed with as black a humour as I have ever seen from Ireland's pen. I never thought I would laugh out loud at such uncomfortable scenes, but I did and so did the audience. Snuffy, the lead character, is a former loyalist paramilitary, displaced and dispossessed since the ceasefires. While pushing the boundaries of taste and decency, Ireland has touched on the most taboo of subjects, the Northern Ireland elephant in the room,. For former paramilitaries and their supporters, how can we be at war one day and the next day be christened the Chuckle Brothers?
But be warned, that final scene, played with great courage by actors Roy Heayberd and JD Kelleher, is tough to watch. It's horror morphs into bizarre as the rest of the ensemble cast sing and dance in front of the two actors in a style reminiscent of Mel Brook's Springtime for Hitler in Germany.
Interval, the audience stay, no one quite meeting the other's eye, complicit in our laughter in the final stages of Ireland's play.
Next up, Robert Welch's play "Static". A hospital bed centre stage. A man is lying in it, dying of cancer. He is also a former terrorist, Armagh-based, now a successful horse man, but he is known locally as a killer. And he likes this status, especially among the young women of the area. This is all revealed as the morphine driver in his arm slowly releases the painkiller which releases his tongue. He was a sniper. He shot a soldier in the head. Now he is a dying breed, once a branded as a freedom fighter for Ireland, now, in moments of lucidity, railing against former comrades who have gone with the new dispensation at Stormont. Robert Welch captures the agony of cancer with the dying spirit of a former combatant.
Rachel O'Riordan, Ransom's Artistic Associate, says the project came about as she wanted to take a challenging look at life here now. When political change happens, it creates, she says, a cultural and social shift.
What I felt most powerfully was the trauma and fear that underlies Northern Ireland today. Yes we have a government on the hill, ministers, departments, a new sense of devolved self, but how do you move on from 30 years of killings? How do the people at the core of this horror change and accept a new role, or in many cases, a lack of role?
The shift that has happened, be it political or cultural, and it has changed us. Watching both plays challenges us to see that change. And to know there is no going back. And if you're shocked all the better.
"Both Sides" is at the Crescent Arts Centre in Belfast until the 28th October. It then goes on a Northern Ireland tour. www.ransomtheatrecompany.com