A fusion of music, stand-up and spoken word, Greater Belfast is a vivid portrait of a city built on a kind of muck with a particular name: sleech. The stage is scattered with piles of dirty brown sand. At the end of the show Regan empties the thermos he’s been drinking from all morning, and wet mud pours out onto the floor. He says ‘where I come from is a bit … shit’ and describes ‘buildings like ships sailing on sleech’.
Highly ambitious, he moves between politics, personal memories and comedy, sometimes smoothly, sometimes not so much. He takes on a lot at once (including a poem he wrote at 14). There are some awkward homages to the music that helps him think through his relationship to Belfast – he sings scraps from ‘An Alternative Ulster’ and the Undertones – but the trouble is, he can’t really sing, which is made worse by a somewhat ineffective microphone.
What he can do, and beautifully, is write. The score and the script flow together, creating a very personal evocation of a city I’ve never visited but now definitely want to.
He addresses us as ‘Listener’ with highly stylised pauses, and sketches out several scenes and images of Belfast from its origins in primeval sleech, through the factories, to the renovated Ulster museum in the present day. Regan takes familiar analogies (he doffs his cap to Seamus Heaney) and makes them new: the fabric of the city is crafted by the ‘linen slaves’ or factory ‘millies’, the city sinks back into the muck it was built on, wheelie bin by wheelie bin.
Despite trying to avoid talking about ‘the T word’, Regan takes us to a museum exhibit on the topic. Then he takes us back to the early 90s where he watches a flat burning, the fire like an ‘upside down waterfall’, which ‘moved my shadow where I sat’ and left the building with upward flicks of ash ‘like eyelashes’. At times, he lets the music tell the story, which the Cairn String Quartet deliver poignantly. An ambitious debut production, Greater Belfast is a moving and occasionally awkward vision of one man’s struggle to come to terms with a city of sleech.
- Written, Composed and Played by Matt Regan
- Director: Claire Willoughby
- Music: The Cairn String Quartet
- Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2016
- Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
- Until 28 August 2016
- Review by Saskia McCracken
- 14 August 2016