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The Hard Man (Edinburgh)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Thirty years have passed since the last revival of The Hard Man by Jimmy Boyle and Tom McGrath. There was a concern that the play, important in its day, could have dated. However, apart from some clumsy dialogue, the piece remains powerful and shocking. That is as much to do with the carefully judged intense production by Phillip Breen.

The first act charts the bloody path that this intelligent man chooses for himself and later the tables are turned as we see institutionalised violence at work. Johnny tastes his own medicine at the hands and the truncheons of sadistic prison warders. There really is no reasoning for either variety and the play does not seek to make a case or profer excuses but rather presents the story, using a variety of theatrical devices including vaudeville, music and out front narration.

The play is uncomfortable to watch as the initial instinct to admire the vibrant choreography at play, gives way to distaste as the denouement of each sequence ends in a slashing or a stabbing.
Alex Ferns is impressively commanding as Johnny Byrne, the fictionalised version of Boyle, particularly in the cage scenes.

The supporting cast is strong and the percussive score which underpins the production is impressively played  by Chris Wallace.

In some ways, the worrying aspect is that after 3 decades the play remains so relevant as the mindless, brutal violence continues to blight society and like McGrath and Boyle, nobody seems to have an answer for stopping it.

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