The Force of Change at the Royal Court

The Irish hold on things theatrical in London - stretching from the return of the dazzling play, Howie the Rookie, to re-open the fringe Bush Theatre (prior to going on to New York and San Francisco) to Lloyd Webber's latest musical The Beautiful Game - continues unabated with Gary Mitchell's gripping The Force of Change.

First seen at the Royal Court's tiny Theatre Upstairs in April, it has now deservedly transferred to the Theatre Downstairs main house, and even if one imagines that its Belfast Royal Ulster Constabulary interview room setting must have been more claustrophobically challenging in the intimate studio space, the play remains both provocative and riveting theatre.

It's a slow-burner: stick with it, because although the first act only really catches fire with its very last seven lines, it picks up where it leaves off so unexpectedly there to achieve a gathering and increasingly tense momentum in the second act.

The Force of Change turns out to be not so much a play about the interviewed (a suspected loyalist terrorist and a petty thief) as the interviewers. In the process, it's a fascinating exploration of office politics, personal loyalties and crises, and sexism at play in the workplace, that gives it a far more universal resonance.

As the young and ambitious Detective Sergeant Caroline Patterson (a deliberately unlikeable Laine Megaw) and her older, male colleague Bill Byrne (Sean Caffrey) clash over their interrogation of UDA suspect Stanley Brown (an impressively impassive Stephen Kennedy), a drama unfolds that will put her life at risk and his career on the line.

There's an impressive accumulation of detail in the careful way Mitchell reveals both character and plot, so that the play eventually detonates in a flurry of argument and revelation. Robert Delamere's finely nuanced production makes for a powerful and uncomfortable evening's theatre.

Mark Shenton