The chronicles of Long Kesh.

updateThere is to be a discussiion on Experience in political conflict, in the Studio at the Waterfront Hall, after the matinee of the show this Saturday at 4.45 pm. Danny Morrison, Billy Hutchinson William McQuiston, Brian Erskine and Dr Rona Friels (USA- a specialist in political violence). The discussion will be chaired by Noel Thompson.
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Martin Lynch’s play is on at the Waterfront hall. Not in the main auditorium but off to the side in the studio. You can’t reserve seats in there, but it’s very small and intimate. This is a marvellous play. At first I thought it was very pro-republican – but it’s not, it’s simply that recorded history of the Kesh will always be dominated by the republican struggle that went on in there. It tries it’s best to bring in the loyalist and official IRA sides but the provisional story dominates.

A stark background with five blokes and one woman and three large boxes. All the actors have multiple roles. The woman’s role was particulrly demanding. She was the wife of the screw that rejoiced in the husbands big pay check, and the wife of a prisoner who refused to bring the kids to see him during the dirty protest, then she was the voice on the radio news. The most difficult adaptation for her and the audience to make was when she doubled as a loyalist inmate. Her role changed from being female to male, and in that sense I felt the play was one actor short. It was a big enough plot, with enough material in there for six men and one woman, and the male role for her was very physically demanding. She was a very capable actress and pulled it off, but if I’d one criticism of the play that would be it.

“You can’t be a good man and be a screw”. That was a pivotal turning point in the play. Straight after a beating a republican prisoner is lying on the floor and shouts that out to the screw. That is one of the most emotional scenes in the play.

The role of the screw is doubled up with that of narrator, and he walks you through the history narrrative of the play. The screw feels the stress of the job, and takes to drink. He loses his family, turns to God and comes out at the end a totally different character. Certainly a more humble person, from being somebody to being nobody. At one point I thought, this is going to make this screw look good, thats a distortion, history is what it is, I’m not sitting through this! Until you realise thats not what its about at all.

You won’t leave your prejudices behind you in this play. It will evoke emotions in you, but all sides are in there. For such a simple set this play covers the complexities of life in the jails at the time very well. Theres an excellent use of singing of songs from the time. It’s a male dominated play and it will show you how vulnerable men really are, both physically and emotionally. It brings the message home that the might of the state was not enough to break a man, but not seeing his child could bring him to his knees.

Excellent show – go see it.

  • picador

    The Official IRA were republicans as well. I believe the playwright was associated with this strand of republicanism.

  • Kathleen

    The Official IRA were republicans as well.

    Indeed they were Picador, but their experiences of being behind the wire is different to that of the provisionals. One aspect that came through in the play was the difference between the loyalist experience and that of republicans. While republicans are on blanket protest etc the loyalists are concerned about the 12th July, and plonk. The contrast is stark, and the play brings it out well.

    The role of the prison officer hasn’t been explored in our literature and plays as much as it could be. Maybe this is the next story to be told.

    I was very impressed with this play. It’s the actors that make it a success, not props or lights but good acting. Good ulster humour with the teasing between the Derry and Belfast men, and a great ending….

    I couldn’t recomend it more.

  • Rory Carr

    “The role of the prison officer hasn’t been explored in our literature and plays as much as it could be.

    Very true, Kathleen, but the recent sad news of Patrick McGoohan’s death reminded me of his powerful role as the screw in a film version of Brendan Behan’s The Quare Fellow (Dir Arthur Dreifuss 1962). Later he also played the role of the sadistic prison governor in Clint Eastwood’s Escape from Alcatraz (1979).

    Promotion of a sort, I suppose.