Is there any creature more hated than the rat? In Stuart Carolan’s play, Defender of the Faith, the dynamics of a stereotypical Northern Irish family (bullying father, destructive son, crazy mother) are glossed over to make room for a short thriller about trust in the IRA. Thankfully, the first two-thirds of the 90-minute play eschew the pretension of genre and naturally depict the terse lives of a family of cow-herders. An enemy informer is suspected of hiding among them, and when a sinister IRA investigator arrives on the scene, his violent interrogations slowly chip away at the family’s loyalty to one another.
Ciarán O’Reilly is well suited for realism: he keeps his actors busy with the physical chores and labors of life first, while their lines come next. A few of the actors still have trouble with the accent, but barring that, the scenes are excellently paced. Slip-ups are never as conspicuous in an ensemble piece, and any slack is more than compensated for by David Lansbury and Peter Rogan, who play the tout-hunter and the suspected tout. Lansbury plays his Bible-quoting, villainous investigator with such humanity that we often forget he’s been sent to the farm to make an example of someone.
Meanwhile, Rogan’s portrayal of Barney, an elderly farmhand with a strong moral compass and 20 years of loyalty, makes him a fixed source of strength. The inevitable struggle between father and son (Anto Nolan and Luke Kirby) is staged well, and the role-reversal shows the range of both actors. Nolan’s role as the rotund, priggish father is probably the play’s most clichéd, but he carries it off with a certain solemnity, acknowledging the character’s deep-seated self-deprecation. Kirby’s motivations are the least defined of the play, and his portrayal is often overtaken by the character’s frustration, but even this role fits with the overall feel of the show. Defender of the Faith is a natural slice of life, succinctly executed with a crisp story. Though there’s some stumbling at the end of the show, everything fits into the messy web of life itself.