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A Night in November is a night to remember

Matthew Forsythe stars as Kenneth McAllister in the Soda Bread Theatre production at the Lyric Matthew Forsythe stars as Kenneth McAllister in the Soda Bread Theatre production at the Lyric
By Ciara Quinn

THE tagline for A Night in November on the poster outside the Lyric Theatre reads: ‘Is it possible to change?’
As the audience took their seats on Thursday evening to watch one man struggle to come to terms with his own identity, the question could well have been put about the now classic play which returns after a quarter-century break.
Marie Jones’ play, directed in this 2019 interpretation by her son and fellow actor Matthew McElhinney, charts the story of dole clerk Kenneth Norman McAllister, a Protestant who has always followed the rules and has “cleanly discriminated” against Catholics throughout his life. We meet him in all his vanilla glory – brown jacket, tie, shirt, pressed trousers and good, sturdy work shoes – as he takes his place behind his desk in a welfare office as the jobless file in.
An acceptance into the local golf club is, for Kenneth, like winning Willie Wonka’s Golden Ticket, and he takes great delight in informing his Catholic boss of the news knowing that he will never get to tee off on the hallowed greens despite numerous applications.
Set around the now infamous, politically charged football match between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland World Cup qualifier at Windsor in 1993, Kenneth attends with his bigoted father-in-law ‘Wee Ernie’ and begins to question his mindset as he witnesses what’s going on around him. Kenneth stands aghast as chants of ‘Greysteel seven, Ireland nil’ rain down from the stands as the match kicks off.
Shell-shocked following the match and all that went on during those fraught 90 minutes, Kenneth brings Ernie home and begins to question what could be his inevitable path if he doesn’t start making some changes.
Lead actor Matthew Forsythe has a total of 12 roles to portray in this fast, furious and incredibly demanding one-man show. It’s no easy task but each character is brought to life vividly through his tone, his stance and his voice. Even a simple fold of the arms can work wonders, whether’s it’s Kenneth’s ‘keeping up with the Jones’ snooty wife Deborah, his boss Gerry, or Wee Ernie, the bitter and wheezing father-in-law.
Chris Hunter’s set design is in a sense the only other character beside Kenneth and that too is brought imaginatively and effectively to life. Astro turf gives us our pitch, but it’s the innovative scattering of cardboard boxes that turn into Kenneth’s car, his desk, chair – even the soaring New York skyline – which work to greatest effect. A particularly effective ploy is the backdrop of a distorted mirror showing us, the audience, and inviting us to join Kenneth on his journey of reflection.
The play comes 25 years after the curtain first came up in Dubblejoint’s Whiterock theatre space. It remains as dramatic, funny, poignant, worrying and challenging as it was when it burst into our consciousness all those years ago. The question is, how much has changed outside the theatre?
A Night in November runs at the Lyric Theatre until June 21 and will then go on tour.

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