The Day the Pope Emptied Croy Traverse Theatre

Martin McCormick’s second foray into the A Play, a Pie and a Pint initiative is set in 1982 in a Catholic community in Lanarkshire, a town deserted as the populace head to Bellahouston Park to see the Pope.

This exodus provides the opportunity for two teenage boys, public school “anarchist atheist” punk Ranald (Nathan Byrne) and his glue sniffing, Celtic top wearing pal Barr (Keiran Gallacher) to raid the church, intending to steal the chalice to fund their escape to a squat in Newcastle.

They each have their reasons for getting away; Ranald is unhappy with his new stepmother, and his father’s new found religion, Barr is the youngest sibling in a violent, homophobic family and wants to find a better life away from them. As the tale unfolds, it becomes clear that his friendship with Ranald goes deeper than he will admit, perhaps even to himself.

Their unexpected encounter with a third party in the church, Chris (Sean Purdon Brown) brings complications and conflicting emotions, ultimately forcing Barr to decide where his loyalties lie.

To give away more of the plot would detract from the experience of seeing the production, and in the hands of these three fine young actors and the powerful direction of Emma Callander, this is a heavyweight punch of a play.

For all that, it is not without its flaws. The shift from the banter between the two boys in the early stages to the brutality of the climax is ragged and uneven. McCormick has an ear for dialogue, and clearly knows how people spoke and acted in these communities in those days (for this is a period piece, recent past or no) but Barr’s decision, and the action it leads him to take, somehow came as no surprise. Chris(t) is no redeemer here.

You are left wondering if McCormick sees no way out for any of his characters, and if he feels that their history is being repeated throughout the land today. He might not be wrong.

Jim Welsh