Review: The Boat Factory at the King’s Head Theatre, N1

Neil Harrison Photography 2010

Neil Harrison Photography 2010 - Credit: Archant

Two men stand upon a stage ready to tell tales about an old boat factory in Belfast. This may not sound like the most thrilling night out, and it is arguably not best sold with that description. Yet, The Boat Factory offers something far greater.

Writer and star, Dan Gordon, has drawn a wistful paean to a bygone era. One brimming with the smokey fumes, hustle and bustle of the ship building industry in Northern Ireland. Despite relying on a cast of two, he has expertly brought to life the proclaimed ‘city within a city’. A place where 35,000 employees gathered to work across 300 acres in 67 different trades.

The year is 1947 and Davy is 16 when he first walks through the hallowed grounds of the factory. Armed with his £5 deposit, he is thrown into an apprenticeship scheme. ‘A trade for life’, is what he is told. Upon his arrival, he finds a quick bond with seasoned factory apprentice, Geordie, who is a cheeky and warm young man. Geordie takes the wet nosed Davy under his wing and guides him through his tentative steps into this startling new world.

What results is a stirring poem. The nepotism at the heart of the old industry and the harsh working conditions that the employment provided are all presented plainly without caricature. You marvel at how much times have changed, for better and for worse. Both Dan Gordon and Michael Condron excel with their wonderful performances.

If there is fault, it is in the occasional minor clunky gear shifts in the rhythm of the play. However, The Boat Factory is no failure. It is well worth your time. Be prepared to laugh and sigh with a nostalgia-drenched tear resting in the corner of your eye. Job well done.

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