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The Times Literary Supplement
The Bedsit
The Tabard
22 November 1996

Beauty In A Dustbin

Of Paul Sellar’s The Bedsit, one is tempted to say, “it’s about the IRA”; but Sellar is so keen throughout to avoid the acronym, indeed to avoid the word “Ireland”, preferring to refer to it as the country “across the water”, that one demurs. Brady, the play’s central character, also balks at labels and hard facts; a Republican hero turned pacifist informer (convincingly portrayed by James Ellis), he prefers to compare himself to the fox, “always running”, in the treasured blood – sport painting that hangs in the room he never now leaves, and grows philosophical about his dingy surroundings, finding “beauty in a dustbin, if it’s lit by the moon”.

The Bedsit turns out to be a cleverly crafted appreciation of the mutability of time and experience; of youth’s inability to recognize the angry, idealistic present as something that may return to haunt the idealist in later years. Brady sits idly waiting for his guests – the much younger, more idealistic and arrogant Dempster and Anton. The twists given to the story of mistrust and misjudgement that unfolds after their arrival involve the audience not simply in an anticipatory sense, as one might expect from a thriller, but in a self questioning one, too as during a scene in which Dempster (Cliff Hylands) picks up the telephone, gives a long series of numbers and says, aggressively, “in about fifteen minutes”. One breathes something like a sigh of relief at having one’s prejudices pandered to in this way, only to be faced, fifteen minutes later, not with the rumble of a distant explosion, but with the delivery of a Chinese take – away.

Sellar’s play (his third) is more than a political sketch about the Troubles however. He never asks us to sympathize with the beliefs of his characters, only with their shared loneliness and insecurity. The lethargic, Bible-clutching Brady proves a frustrating figure for the two young idealists (whose task it is to persuade him to rejoin the Republicans), and when Dempster scorns Brady’s new-found distaste for armed confrontation, shouting “You can’t kick down doors when you’re wearing sandals”, his zeal is as pitiable as it is alarming. The recurrent strains of the Republican ballad “Willie McBride”, sung here between scenes by Polly Bowles, further expose Dempster’s thuggish sentimentalism.

At times, The Bedsit relies to heavily on contemporary slang and brand-name verite to make it’s points; the Casio watch Dempster takes such pride in may raise a life now, but will certainly date the play. Sellar has nevertheless written a funny and thought provoking study of fear and idealism, which invites comparison, in scale and intensity, with Harold Pinter’s one-act political salvos, and is vividly directed by Mike Friend.

Alison Huntley