Interview: Flora Montgomery on Under the Black Rock, ‘It’s very challenging, which is why I did it’

by Jim Keaveney

Under the Black Rock, the new play by Tim Edge which opened at Arcola Theatre this week, stars Evanna Lynch (the Harry Potter film series) and Flora Montgomery (The Crown) as part of an all-Irish cast.

The play, set in Belfast around the time of the Troubles, poses questions about family loyalty, morality and how young men and women are drawn into violence. Its plot twists and turns as the thriller traces the shifting fortunes of a family during the North of Ireland’s recent history as the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday agreement approaches.

Montgomery, who played Norma Major in The Crown and received the Irish Times Best Actress Award for Miss Julie, plays the dual role of Sandra and Bridget. As the cast prepared for opening night, I heard from her about the technical challenge of dual roles, about feeling at home on stage and why the Under the Black Rock provides an important lesson.

Q&A with Flora Montgomery

What can you tell us about Under the Black Rock?

The play is a thrilling and emotional drama set in Belfast in the early 70’s during the Troubles. The story is centred around a family in which each member is caught up either with the violence or acting against the violence that surrounds them.

Beside this is the drama of a terrorist cell in which there is an informer for the British army. At the core of the play is the question of what motivates people to make the decisions that they do, whether that is a decision to betray or protect the ones they love, and whether they do what they do because of money, status, love or belief.

You’re playing Sandra and Bridget, what can you tell us about the roles?

Sandra is a mother hen who loathes the violence that consumes the city and will do anything to stop it coming into her family’s lives, and consequently makes terrible decisions to protect her children.

Bridget is a fiercely intelligent and driven woman who believes that violence and terror are the only methods to bring peace to Northern Ireland.

Flora Montgomery in Under the Black Rock. Photo: Gregory Haney


Is there a challenge in playing dual roles and does that influence how you approach the play?Yes, it’s very challenging, which is why I did it. Switching from one to the other you have to be well prepared in advance so you can jump from one character to another in a split second without needing to search for the character. It’s technical and agile and the challenge is being truthful while being so technical.

You portrayed Norma Major in The Crown; how was that experience and how does acting in television and film compare to theatre?

I adored being part of The Crown. It is an honour to be in such an iconic show and work with the best in the industry. I will always treasure my time working with 5 different phenomenal directors on one show.

The difference between film/television and theatre acting is vast, it’s a completely different skill.  I feel more at home on stage: as long as you’ve put in the work then you can really ‘take-off’ with a part, you can feel the audience trusting you and coming on a journey with you, there is no feeling like it in the world.

Finally, how would you describe Under Black Rock to someone considering buying a ticket for the show?

It’s a thrilling combination of heart-breaking family drama with a nail-biting who-done-it subplot. You’ll be on the edge of your seat all evening. It’s also an important reminder how horrific the dark days of the troubles were and that we must never return to them.

Under the Black Rock is at Arcola Theatre until 25 March