WHEN the Tron Theatre’s artistic director Andy Arnold programmed this revival of David Ireland’s acclaimed, Northern Irish tragicomedy Cyprus Avenue, he could hardly have imagined how timely it would be. Just three days before the Tron opened its production of this ferocious satire of Ulster Loyalism, UK prime minister Rishi Sunak and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen announced their plan for the status of Northern Ireland.

The plan is, in large part, an attempt to reassure people like the play’s chief protagonist, staunch Belfast Unionist Eric Miller.

Despite Boris Johnson’s attempts to appear more Unionist than the DUP (the former prime minister stopped just short of donning a bowler hat and an orange sash), hopes remain high that the Sunak/von der Leyen deal might lead to the resumption of the power sharing executive at Stormont.

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Incredibly, the surrealism of Johnson’s appearance as a bumbling, tousle-hair, posh, English version of the late Dr Ian Paisley is actually trumped by Ireland’s celebrated drama. In the play – which premiered at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin in 2016 – Eric (played by the outstanding Scottish actor David Hayman) becomes convinced that his infant granddaughter is Gerry Adams, the godfather of modern Irish Republicanism.

We discover the full extent of Eric’s mania through his conversations with his psychotherapist Bridget (Saskia Ashdown), wife Bernie (Ann Louise Ross), daughter Julie (Sinead Sharkey) and gun-wielding “UVF angel” Slim (Shaun Blaney). His baby granddaughter has, the mentally declining Unionist avers, “fenian eyes”.

So obviously Irish, Catholic and Republican is the little tot, in fact, that Eric is certain that she is “Gerry Adams without the beard”.

The National:

As a satire of obsessive politico-cultural fundamentalism, Ireland’s play is, in its initial scenes, at least, darkly hilarious. As the drama goes on, Eric talks through the complexities of his own identity and prejudices (insisting, at times, that he doesn’t hate, and actually loves, Irish Catholics, and contemplating the possibility that, having lived his whole life in Belfast, he might, even, be Irish).

The central character is a demanding and brilliant one for an experienced thespian to tackle. The original production starred the fabulous Northern Irish actor Stephen Rea in the role.

The Tron has matched that casting beautifully by drawing on the inestimable talents of Hayman. The actor is, by turns, child-like in his vulnerability, comic in his delusions, agonisingly distracted in his mental state and frightening in his irrational certainties.

It is a stellar performance, brilliantly sustained by Hayman, right through to Ireland’s powerful, stinging conclusion. Indeed, so unforgettable is the drama’s denouement that, in the interests of the uninitiated, it should not be subject to spoilers.

Hayman is supported by a universally superb supporting cast in Arnold’s characteristically tight production. The piece enjoys excellently sharp, minimal design by Becky Minto (who manages, neatly, to make one room stand in for three distinct spaces).

This is a richly deserved revival of a play that should establish David Ireland as the Martin McDonagh of Northern Irish Loyalism.

Until March 25: tron.co.uk