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Edinburgh review: Greater Belfast (Traverse)

A weird and wondrous hymn at the Edinburgh Fringe to the memory of Belfast

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Matt Regan in Greater Belfast
© Mihaela Bodlovic

I stumbled off the train from London to Edinburgh and straight into this - the kind of show that festivals are invented for. It's weird and wondrous and haunting; an hour to wrap up in your heart and remember for a long while.

Composer, writer and director Matt Regan has created a hymn of memory to his native Belfast, a city he hasn't lived in for more than a decade. In fragments of phrases, poems, speeches and songs, to the plangent accompaniment of the Cairn String Quartet, he weaves a tapestry of recollection that reeks with a sense of place.

He's an attractive presence guiding us through the palimpsest, teasing us about the mention of the T word - for the Titanic, he jokes - imitating the magnificent Feargal Sharkey and the songs of the Undertones, but also wandering off stage to buy an ice cream while the musicians conjure a walk through Belfast centre.

He whistles and mimics smoking to evoke the conversation of the Millys - the mill girls whose hard labour in the linen industry helped to build the city's prosperity - but he also, quietly and with devastating simplicity, reminds us of the deaths in the 30 years of The Troubles, and the fact that suicides in the city over the past decade now exceeds them.

Beautifully directed by Claire Willoughby and lit by Simon Hayes in ways that make a tiny space feel full of life, Greater Belfast allows Regan's poetic language - broken phrases sitting alongside neatly rhyming couplets, metaphor alongside the everyday - to do its work, building a picture of a city that "draws on itself for ever" as he himself comes to terms with his feelings for it.

The hour draws to the most devastating musical climax - soundtrack CDs are available - where the space seems to be full of the sound of the sea, the beam of a lighthouse and the blast of a place recalled and loved. It is literally sensational, using simple means to reach the places other shows do not reach.

Greater Belfast runs at Traverse Theatre at various times until 28 August.

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