The Boat Factory – launched in East Belfast last night

The Boat Factory, play by Dan Gordon, produced by Happenstance Theatre CompanyDan 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.

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  • Who says Slugger can’t do culture as well as politics!

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Indeed….and it certainly seems more promising than the risible “The Troubles According to Me Da” and that Godawful George Best one that I wasted two hours of my life on recently.
    Dan Gordon is a genuine talent in both acting and directing.
    Perhaps the John Hewitt (actor) of our time, he is perhaps too tied to Belfast theatre for the good of his own career.

    He is currently the biggest fish in a small pond and I earnestly hope he broadens his horizons as he has the talent to be appear on bigger and more lucrative stages.

  • Pod

    Does it make much reference to the endemic harassment, violence and systematic sectarianism associated with the Shipyard?

    Does it reflect upon those Catholics murdered while working there or the ones forced out? And of course the many Protestant Socialists and Trade Unionists expelled also.

    Or does it adhere to the NIO concocted “our wee country was actually wonderful all along” line?

    What was it Carson said about his ‘friends’ in the Shipyard again???

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    In fairness Sam Thompson denizen of Belfasts lefty artsy types touched on that in “Over The Bridge” at the end of the 1950s. It was controversially shown (with Hugh Leonard re-writes on BBC in the early 1960s) with the usual line-up of character actors.
    Of course Thompson was a leftie (NILP type) and the sectarianism was always somebody elses fault NOT of course the workers. Lynch (ex Republican Clubs, “sticky lefty”) does the same thing in his works.
    So is a darling of the Workers Party lefty journo artsy types.

    Cant condemn Gordons work without actually seeing it (besides I like him) but this seems like a “feel good” play for East Belfast…..much as “Behold The Sons Of Ulster” indulged in some harmless enough myth making.
    God alone knows theres been some awful Republican “plays” written.

  • There is some reference to the issue in the first half, suggesting some of the positive outcomes (funding of a chapel etc) as well as marking the fact that it wasn’t an incredibly “warm house”. As a play, it seemed to be taking a middle of the road approach about a lot of aspects of the shipyard, rather than highlighting the worst extremes. And I guess you can’t do everything in two hours.

    It’ll be interesting how it plays to audiences in West Belfast and beyond.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Seemingly its in West Belfast tonight at St Domonics …I dont anticipate riots.
    The artsy crowd are always polite and will nod sagely thru out…its the version of East Belfast that the artsy crowd prefers to believe…good honest salt of the earth people just like the version the artsy crowd prefers of West Belfast…….all the same under the skin and all that.
    Not so much interesting “how it plays” but rather “how it is played” in venues.
    Possibly the Ulster-Scots (sic) venue in the Mourne Mountains might get a different performance than St Dominics on the Falls Road.

    But ultimately a “Protestant” playwright from East Belfast will always get a better reception on the FALLS Road than he will in East Belfast (well that was the case with Sam Thompson).
    And a “Catholic” playwright from West Belfast be better thought of in East Belfast and the Citys artsy establishment than in his own back yard. (Lynch for example).

    Prophets in their own country perhaps.

  • Well the boy from Mersey Street got a good reception in his own back yard last night. Could be hard to beat!

  • smeeho

    That’s ‘Observe the Sons of Ulster’. Mr Horse, I’m used to your scatter gun rambles, but on this occasion I you are all over the show. Thompson was actually a candidate for the NILP in the elections of 1964, and even a cursory reading of over the bridge highlights Thompsons belief that the Unions failed in the face of sectarianism. It’s really about the failure of the socialist moevement to stand together in the face of sectarianism. They are to blame not those who eat flags, who Thompson seems to think are just doing what they have always done. Did you see the play when it was perfomed at the Waterfront? Its not as simplistic as it is portrayed in the media.
    If you want more difficult plays about East Belfast read Stewart Parker or Christina Reid.

  • Largie

    Pod I suggest you go and see it as i plan to tonight. I expect that touches on many a thing without solving many a thing including sectarianism. i expect to be entertained at a fraction of the usual cost.
    does it mention health and safety?
    my great grandfather and father died as a result of injury and disease at Harland and Wolff but im proud that they worked there and of what they created…not every one threw the nearest catholic into the dry dock.

  • maureenbarnes

    I saw this performance on 16th Oct., and never laughed and cried as much. The yard stole my father’s life and my brothers. My father with abestos and my brother’s by an accident. Yea there were skivers but also real honest working belfast men.