Dan Gordon’s new play The Boat Factory opened in the heart of East Belfast last night. Part drama, part documentary, it plots out the development of the shipyard in Belfast, as well as charting the social history of the shipyard workers.
Produced by Happenstance Theatre Company and directed by Philip Crawford, it’s the story Davy Gordon – played by Dan Gordon and based on his father – growing up and following his brothers into Harland and Wolff as an apprentice. Michael Condron play’s fellow worked Geordie Kilpatrick as well as filling in for countless other minor characters throughout the show. (There’s even a quick Paisley impression for good measure.)
Initiation pranks, nicknames, a co-worker obsessed with Moby Dick, humour, innuendo and fart jokes as well as pathos and an ending that had many in the audience reaching for a hanky.
The play dealt with the Titanic but avoided taking the sentimental approach that may unfortunately become prevalent over the next couple of years.
If she hadn’t sank, she’d be long forgotten by now. Just another number and scrap. Look at the Olympic, built at the same time and scrapped after 26 years in the Jarrow boat yard. We’re working on ship number 1384 the Juan Peron. Near one thousand ships have been built since boat 401. We didn’t just build the Titanic you know.
The play strongly connected with the East Belfast audience last night, and seemed to validate many of the legends and perceptions they had inherited as they grew up in the shadow of Samson and Goliath.
Over the next two weeks, Happenstance are touring around unusual venues – mostly avoiding proper theatres – taking the play into the heart of various communities: halls, schools, even a prison. Old fashioned community theatre. If you get a chance, I would recommend that you catch a performance of The Boat Factory as it tours.
Alan Meban. Tweets as @alaninbelfast. Blogs about cinema and theatre over at Alan in Belfast. A freelancer who writes about and reports from civic, academic and political events, reviews cultural performances, chairs discussions, and live-tweets, streams and records lectures and conferences. He delivers social media training, coaching and consultancy, produces podcasts, is a member of Ofcom’s Advisory Committee for Northern Ireland, FactCheckNI board member, and is a member of the Corrymeela Community.