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Stephen Rea plays loyalist in new comedy but doubts some will get joke

By Laura Abernethy

He played republican spy Ned Broy in Michael Collins and provided Gerry Adams with a voiceover during the broadcasting ban - now Belfast actor Stephen Rea is to play a loyalist in a new produciton in Dublin.

Cyprus Avenue - a place made famous by a Van Morrison song - tells the story of east Belfast man Eric Miller (Rea), who believes that his five-week old granddaughter is Sinn Fein leader Mr Adams.

The dark comedy, written by Belfast man David Ireland, explores the complexities of loyalism and identity.

The 69-year-old actor was born into a Protestant family with nationalist sympathies, and was married to the late IRA bomber Dolours Price for 20 years.

"I've never had so much fun," Rea told The Irish Times.

"It's not that one ends up feeling sympathetic to the loyalist position, but you do understand that they are in a cul-de-sac, and one of some tragedy. The character is a tragic figure. In many ways they really don't know who they are."

The play will run at the Abbey Theatre next week and there are plans to take it to London.

Speaking about the debut in Dublin, Rea added: "I think David (Ireland) has immense courage. "He said to me: 'I think it would be good fun to do a loyalist play at the Abbey in 2016'. I don't think it's a loyalist play. It's about loyalism. Too many plays (about the Troubles) are stuck in a realistic groove of balaclavas and socialists. Whereas he's really into the mind of it."

He said: "If you define yourself in opposition to something it's an absolutely hopeless way to live. But I don't know anybody who's addressed it with such humour and insight. It's one of the ways the theatre can actually move things on. I can't imagine teams of loyalists rolling up to watch it."

He would like to see the play staged in east Belfast, where it is set, but is unsure if the production would allow the audience there to confront their fears or if they would think they were being mocked.

Cyprus Avenue, produced with London's Royal Court Theatre, begins at Dublin's Abbey Theatre this Thursday and runs until March 19.

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