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On McQuillan’s Hill at Finborough Theatre | Review

On McQuillan's Hill at Finborough Theatre
On McQuillan’s Hill – Photographer Bronwen Sharp

Joseph Crilly’s play On McQuillan’s Hill has taken twenty years to reach mainland Britain, since its first production in Belfast soon after the Good Friday agreement. It has been more than well worth the wait! Crilly’s play looks at the effects of the large scale prisoner release after the agreement – he had no time for sectarianism and regarded its perpetrators on both sides with equal disdain. It takes place in a Village Hall in mid-Ulster: when proud IRA man Fra Maline (a superb, charismatic performance by Johnny Vivash) is released from prison, his ‘daughter’, Theresa throws a party for him. She is imaginatively played by Julie Maguire, who is easily able to deal with everything that she is asked to take on board during the course of the play.

Unknown to the revellers the hall has been bought by Fra’s sister Loretta, who turns up after a twenty-year absence ready to demolish it. She is portrayed by Gina Corrigan, well able to hold her own in encounters with the powerful men in this play.

Bitter memories and lies long-buried threaten to resurface during an accidental family reunion: nothing will ever be the same again.

Declan Rogers, who boasts a rich, resonant speaking voice plays builder Ray, whom Theresa brings in to deal with the hall; Kevin Murphy, who seems lightweight but eventually proves he is anything but, is Fra’s ‘friend’ Dessie, and Mrs Tynally, the hall caretaker, is effectively portrayed by Helena Bereen.

Crilly’s play is a slow-burner; in the first act, we are gradually introduced to the characters and their backstories in a series of duologues that suddenly explode into an exhilarating and at times even frightening second half. This is very powerful writing from a master of his craft, and one of the best-written plays I have seen for a long time.

The direction, by Jonathan Harden is very perceptive. He knows instinctively when to let the play breathe, and when to push it on – the pace is often breathtaking – when to let it relax and be amusing, and when to make it suddenly terrifying. At the same time, he lets the play speak for itself and never tries to put his own stamp on it. This is also one of the best directed (and acted!) plays I have seen for a long time!

The evocative set, making imaginative use of the Finborough space, is by Norman Coates and the exciting fights are directed by Philip D’Orleans.

This production of On McQuillan’s Hill is a fitting tribute to Joseph Crilly, who tragically died by his own hand, it is thought, in 2017. A wonderful, powerful play that provides much food for thought. Very highly recommended.

5 Star Rating

Review by John Groves

There’s a lock o’ new houses down in the village and there’s a Sinn Féin advice centre and the shop’s a Spar now, but nothin’ much else is different. The whole world is changin’ and Gentry stays the same.

Rural Northern Ireland, 1999. Proud IRA man Fra Maline returns home – released early from prison under the Good Friday Agreement – and to celebrate his daughter, Theresa, throws a party at the local community hall on McQuillan’s Hill.

Unknown to the revellers the hall has been bought by Fra’s sister, Loretta, who turns up ready to demolish it after a twenty-year absence across the water.

With peace on a knife-edge, bitter memories, family secrets and lies long buried in the bog threaten to resurface as an accidental family reunion descends into pitch black farce…

A vicious satire from a playwright hailed as “Ulster’s Martin McDonagh” (The Guardian), On McQuillan’s Hill gets under the dirty fingernails of small town Northern Ireland, confronting the horrors of abuse and the corrosive legacy of conflict with explosive wit and an insider’s eye for detail.

Originally produced by the renowned Tinderbox Theatre Company in 2000 at the Lyric Theatre, Belfast, On McQuillan’s Hill now receives its long-overdue English premiere.

Playwright Joseph Crilly
Director Jonathan Harden
Set and Costume Design by Norman Coates
Lighting by Mike Robertson
Music and Sound by Declan Feenan
Presented by Doreen Productions in association with Neil McPherson for the Finborough Theatre.

Helena Bereen | Mrs Tymelly
Gina Costigan | Loretta Maline
Julie Maguire | Theresa Maline
Kevin Murphy | Dessie Rigg
Declan Rodgers | Ray McCullion
Johnny Vivash | Fra Maline



  • John Groves

    John Groves studied singing with Robert Easton and conducting with Clive Timms. He was lucky enough to act in the British premiere of a Strindberg play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe more years ago than he cares to remember, as well as singing at the Royal Opera House - once! He taught drama and music at several schools, as well as examining the practical aspects of GCSE and A level drama for many years. For twenty five years he has conducted a brass band as well as living on one of the highest points of East Sussex surrounded by woodland, deer, foxes and badgers, with kites and buzzards flying overhead.

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