Note: This review dates from March 2002 and an earlier stop on this production's UK tour.
Racism, bigotry, ethnic cleansing - all seem sadly a part of our times in varying forms, whether in Northern Ireland, the former Yugoslavia or the streets of English cities following 11 September.
Writer Helen Edmundson admits that although she wrote The Clearing during the time of civil war in the former Yugoslavia, it has a new relevance given the number of Muslim people attacked and abused in Britain since New York's Twin Towers fell.
But in the play she takes us back to the 1640s and Oliver Cromwell's ruthless colonisation of Ireland, and this touring production from Shared Experience is a poignant and provocative message for us all.
Maddie (a fabulous Aislin McGuckin) is an Irish Catholic girl in Kildare who has fallen for and married young Protestant English landowner Robert Preston (played with wonderful torment by Joseph Millson).
They celebrate the birth of their son and look forward to a future as a family, but Cromwell's ethnic cleansing of Ireland escalates. Land owned by the Irish and their English sympathisers is seized, and evicted landowners and their families are transported. Those who do not comply are hanged.
It's an horrific tale, more so because of its basis in fact.
As Cromwell's men come ever closer, Robert and Maddie are torn in different directions, with Robert being forced to choose between leaving his home and pledging his allegiance to the English.
Millson and McGuckin are excellent together but are backed by an equally convincing company, from the single-minded anti-Irish bigot Sturman (Richard Attlee) to determined friend Susaneh (Amelda Brown).
As a story The Clearing is bleak, dark and frightening. Under the direction of Polly Teale, it becomes passionate, occasionally humorous, always intriguing and compelling. This is real glued-to-your-seat stuff. It's about love and war, trial and retribution, and the heart-stopping moment when each character has to make their individual life-changing decision.
Excellent drama, the kind that stays with you for weeks afterwards. Don't miss it.
- Elizabeth Ferrie (reviewed at Birmingham Repertory Theatre)