The Big Man is relegated to a supporting role
The pre-match chatter for Greenshoot's hotly anticipated Paisley And Me was all about whether Dan Gordon would cut it as the ‘big man'.
As for the thorny issue of tackling Paisley's historical legacy, from his firebrand fundamentalist to his sudden, jarring rapprochement with republicanism — well, it's all a matter of public record.
Instead, this production sidestepped these concerns by making Ian Paisley a supporting character in the play.
This is indeed a tale of one man's destructive hubris, but it would appear to be that of Emmy-Award winning scribe Ron Hutchinson, and not the radical reverend.
The play began with Ron's ‘Me', played by the puzzlingly southern-accented Steve Blount, taking time out from his big-shot Hollywood writer's lifestyle to revisit (in his mind?) the sacred home turf of his Islandmagee childhood.
He invoked the spirits of his dead parents and Paisley himself, ostensibly to hold a sort of inquiry on behalf the Northern Ireland Protestant community at large —all the better to write a play about it.
But what of Gordon’s Paisley?
Well, he's too good an actor not to capture a good deal of the uncanny self-assurance and carefully cultivated bombast of the former scourge of popery.
He had some enjoyable grandstanding “Paisley moments” such as his rant at papal conspiracies with the IRA.
The main trouble was is that poor Paisley (words I never thought I'd type together) was reduced to little more than a supernatural psychoanalyst for our tortured expat hero. Ron had his characters remind us as often as possible how successful he was or personally delivered lengthy lamentations about the Troubles on an island he hadn't been near for decades.
When Paisley literally helped to bury the ghosts of Hutchinson's past, you were reminded of Big Ian's dig about him being a “suntanned scribbler”'.
After much soul-searching about Ulster hearts and soil and blood and the like, the wily old boy, albeit fictionally, appears to have wriggled free from scrutiny once again.