“How far would you go for love?” is the question at the very heart of Norah, and as Gerard Humphreys’ characters emerge from a dusty and troubled Belfast, they demonstrate a sort of love that transcends political, religious and structural violence. Norah follows the family of Belfast hunger striker Kyran McVeigh – his sister, Norah (Juliette Crosbie), and the mother of his child, Jackie (Hannah Carnegie) as they face an impossible choice regarding life, death and autonomy. Humphreys’ script is modelled on Sophocles’ Antigone, and director Anthony Fox capitalizes on the dynamics of Greek tragedy. In Norah the Classical tradition is married seamlessly with the narrative of the Troubles, in a way that capitulates the fear, trauma and intensity faced by a single family in an unruly society.
As the titular character, Crosbie embodies the fire and integrity of Anigone, as she beautifully brings to life the spirit and the suffering of the women of the Troubles – a story too often untold. With energy and control, Crosbie carries Humphreys’ story as she shares, in equal measure, moments of tenderness and violence with her capable supporting cast. Ethan Dillon joins Crosbie and Carnegie to complete a portrait of a family in crisis, while the unwelcome presence of the Catholic Church, the IRA and the RUC is made palpable by Ian Meehan, Brendan Quinn and Barbara Dempsey, respectively.
While Norah recreates the claustrophobia and tension of a family on the cusp of grief, the play rarely leaves its singular setting, and while this is an important feature of the tragic model, the story at times loses its momentum. This is not to say that Norah is without dynamism. The stripped back scenic design, minimal lighting and sound design puts family intimacy under a microscopic lens, as the family, and all its discomfort, are pushed upon the laps of the audience. In short, Norah is successful in striking a theatrical balance between the mythical and the real while subtly capturing the oasis of familial love in a society on the verge of combustion.
Norah by Gerard Humpherys at The New Theatre
Reviewed by Sarah McKenna Barry