The Boat Factory
Dan Gordon's play at the King's Head, set in a Belfast shipyard, is a tour de force featuring an excellent script and masterful performances, says Vicky Ellis
Streaming along with the power and style of a well-built ship, The Boat Factory tells the tale of Belfast's once-legendary shipyard which churned out everything from whale-catchers and tugs to the ill-fated Titanic.
Dan Gordon, well-reputed northern Irish actor and director, was clearly inspired by his hometown and his father's trade as the play is both tribute to the efforts of East Belfast's engineers and nostalgic letter to a craft which has been made obsolete by modern technology.
Gordon plays enthusiastic young Davy Gordon in 1960 as he learns the ropes of joinery and carpentry, with the help of workmate and friend Geordie Kilpatrick or "wee Geordie", the versatile and funny Michael Condron.
Set in a similar mould to modern classic two-hander Stones In His Pockets, masterful performances see both effortlessly switch into other roles, whether it's their swarthy, bowler-hatted boss or the many-chinned and breasty girl in the accountant's office.
A tea-coloured map of the shipyard is the simple backdrop to two metal frames on stage which serve as the scaffolding the pair clamber up to get a good view over all 67 trades of the yard.
The stunning, sometimes dangerous place is conjured for us by an excellent script with detail and lyricism, composer Chris Warren's soundscape of seagulls, boat horns and hammering tools and Philip Crawford's tight direction.
"Everybody thinks they know about the boat factory," says wee Geordie as Davy describes the burrs, the whistles, the whirrs, "but they don't unless they've worked in it." Thanks to this gripping tour de force from Happenstance theatre company, at least we can imagine it.
- Vicky Ellis