Theatre Preview: That’s Riddiculusmus!

By Courtney Post

From Catholics to Protestants, the Irish to the English, no one is safe. Forget the animosity between the groups, grudges embedded in their history like the stench of stale beer caked on to knickers after a bender. Belfast theatre troupe Ridiculusmus has arrived to bring their askew sense of humor to One Yellow Rabbit’s High Performance Rodeo and they promise to bring pints of giggles and pots of funny. Actors Jon Hough and David Woods from the troupe, bring their hit play Say Nothing to the festival, a dark and edgy comedy about the Northern Ireland peace process.

Formed in 1992 after Hough and Woods met at London’s Poor School, Ridiculusmus has since evolved tremendously. First as a group of five, they started out by doing adaptations of novels, but by 1997 they started creating their own material. Pared to only the two actors, now they’ve been streamlined for success… Almost.

“We’re not like celebrities or anything,” confesses Hough. “And I’m not sure we’d want to be.”

But with a prestigious nomination for the Granada Comedy Writing Award under their gold belt buckle, they’re on their way. For now, they have their play Say Nothing to focus on, something they’ve been doing for awhile as Hough and Woods not only act in the play, but also researched, wrote, and created the dark comedy.

“People always try to provoke you to choose a side,” says Hough regarding the political situation in Ireland. “But we don’t do that. We attack everyone in this play.”

Yes, when it comes to Ireland, leprechauns and pots of gold go hand in hand with political and religious strife and violence. These matters have plagued Ireland well before it was partitioned in the 1920s (Leprechauns were deported a decade earlier). Today there still isn’t a lot of trust between the two populations because both sides accuse the other of knowing where the leprechauns hid their lucky charms before they were given the boot. Some might assume the Northerners know the truth because of the old saying in Northern Ireland that goes, “whatever you say, say nothing.” Sounds fishy… or rather, potato-ey.

The story of Kevin (played by Woods), who returns home to his native Belfast after recently receiving a PhD in Peace & Conflict Studies abroad, Say Nothing finds him running a series of workshops to encourage communication between opposing communities. He is welcomed by four eccentric characters all performed by Hough, including Sally, an Anglo maniac BB landlady who offers him breakfast but refuses him a bed and Frank, a militant Orange caretaker. What ensues is a broken comedy about double acts and competitive entertainment. Moreso, it is an attack on apathy in the war zone, an ominously petty soap opera amidst the chaos that is Northern Ireland as the piece is performed on a suitcase full of grass.

“The piece is a mixture of reality and fiction,” describes Hough. “But it’s mostly inspired by reality.” He and Woods spent about six years in Ireland in the mid-1990s and their experience as outsiders provided the main inspiration for the piece.

Frightened by the death threats that their peers were receiving in the area, the duo traveled south. Although Ridiculusmus has not personally received any threats about their work, Hough explains the comedy has a lot to do with their personal reactions as well as the paranoia and aggression they felt in their travels. “David received phone calls in the middle of the night and I was suspected as a British spy.”

“The situation is still basically the same, both sides never want to be seen as losing,” explains the comedian. The political situation has gone through several changes since Say Nothing was written just over five years ago, but the two are happy to keep this as a historical piece.

If you’re looking for a heartfelt story with a moral or message this isn’t it. “We want to disturb people,” claims Hough, “we want people to laugh and be scared at the same time.”

Say Nothing will give the audience an opportunity to understand the situation in Ireland from an alternative perspective, all while Guinness squirts from the nostrils ’cause of the laughs.

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