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Protestants

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
4 stars
TO protest, in its most literal sense, is to dissent from a mainstream that keeps the underdog tethered to its place. All creeds that allowed wars to be fought in their name aren't much different from today's holders of high office. Yet, if ever there was a faith that's been demonised as much as deified, its complex origins confused by some of its more bullish advocates, it's Protestantism. For a Belfast-based theatre company such as Ransom to tackle the subject seriously is still contentious, even as it puts fire on holy waters.

You can almost feel the rumble of a once-pure legacy now warped and corrupted by zealots in Robert Welch's poetic cycle that maps a believer's full global sprawl, from London to Mississippi and Armagh, from puritan soldiers turned hangmen to latter-day Glasgow football thugs hanging on the coat-tails of someone else's second-hand battle. In Paul Hickey's electrifying solo performance, he becomes a sort of wandering conscience of a nation, troubled by the babble of voices in league with the leftover hand-me-down baggage of history. Flinging props from a mock-up of a parliament's interior, Hickey is in turns menacing and on the verge of breakdown in Rachel O'Riordan's searing production, prowling with eloquently-pained constraint bursting at his emotional seams.

Leavened by intermittent musical flourishes culled from the brim-full Anglo-Irish cannon, Welch's script is equally rich in playful cadences that free-associate through one man's struggle with the forces of ''jiggery-popery,'' as one of the characters puts it. At it's heart, Protestants is a serious and breathtaking exploration of faith, belief systems and all the ambiguities that go with them. It's a brilliant depiction, too, of a quest for Jerusalem that's still ongoing.

The Herald, May 18th 2004

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