A Night In November is a brave choice for Patrick Kielty’s stage acting debut. The Northern Irish comedian, known for his stand up routines and presenting duties on television shows like Fame Academy, is now on the West End stage in a one-man play in which he alone has to hold the audience for two hours, portraying a multitude of characters in Marie Jones’s funny and moving play about the tensions and attitudes in Belfast, 1993. Caroline Bishop attended the first night.
The night in question is 17 November 1993, when Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland met each other in a World Cup qualifier held in Belfast, a match characterised by appalling sectarian chants, which, although a draw, led to the Republic qualifying for the finals. Set in the context of this actual event, Jones’s play depicts attitudes in 1990s Belfast as seen through the eyes of Protestant Kenneth McCallister, Kielty’s central character.
McCallister is a small-minded dole officer living a small, neat life with his wife and children in the correct part of Belfast. His major preoccupations in life are getting accepted into the prestigious golf club and making Catholic claimants suffer for their dole payments. That is, until he has an awakening in the stands of that fateful game on 17 November. Accompanied by his sectarian father-in-law, and sitting next to a Republic fan who daren’t cheer for his team for fear of reprisals, McCallister realises that he has become part of something that disgusts him.
This wake-up call opens McCallister’s eyes to the nature of his life and the people in it – the extreme bigotry of his father-in-law Ernie, the indifference to sectarianism displayed by his wife, and the acceptance of it by his friends. Throwing off habits of a lifetime, and inspired by his Catholic colleague, McCallister crosses the border for the first time in his life and flies from Dublin to New York, to support the Republic in the World Cup.
Throughout the play, Kielty bounds about the stage with endless energy, switching rapidly from one character to the next, from comedy to seriousness, as McCallister makes his soul-searching journey. Though his about-turn in the stands comes across as idealistic, the sentiment the character displays in uniting with Republic fans is extremely moving. Ultimately though, with this fictitious man’s journey, Jones shows the inability of individuals to turn the tide, however hard they try, in the face of shockingly real events (which Kielty sadly has first hand experience of, having lost his father to gunmen during the Troubles). As McCallister joins the southern fans in celebrating the Republic’s win over Italy in the first group match, news comes of another shooting in Belfast. em>CB