After Dresden, a new play written by Philip Orr, explores the tragedy of the Second World War and how that in part inspired the foundation of the Corrymeela Community.
It will be performed by the Belvoir Players, 30 April-2 May at 8 pm (2.00 p.m. matinee on Sat 2nd), at their Studio Theatre, 94 Belvoir Drive. Tickets are £9 (£7 concession) and can be purchased online at www.belvoirplayers.org or by ringing 028 9049 1210. Reduced rates are available for parties of 10 or more.
The play is based on the prisoner of war diaries of Rev Ray Davey, who served as a British Army Chaplain during the war. He was imprisoned near Dresden, where the bombing of the city made a formative impression on him. He drew on that experience when establishing Corrymeela during the time he was a Presbyterian chaplain at Queen’s University Belfast. Orr said:
‘Few people realise that the origins of the Corrymeela Community can be traced not to the start of the Troubles – Corrymeela was actually set up before the Troubles in 1965 – but to Ray Davey’s experiences during the Second World War. The horror and suffering of Dresden impressed upon him the futility of war, violence and division.’
Davey’s wartime experience of helping to establish a YMCA centre in Tobruk, Italy, for all faiths was also important for the foundation of Corrymeela. As Davey wrote in his 1993 book, Channel of Peace (p. 34):
‘The experience of the YMCA Centre in Tobruk has remained with me as a prototype of a meaningful Christian Community. It was located right at the place where life was lived in all its wartime pain, frustration and uncertainty. It was at the point where the need was the greatest, where so many young men from so many different countries were, in their suffering and sacrifice, paying the price that is demanded when the nations can find no other way of settling their conflicts. It seemed to me a blood sacrifice they were asked to pay for all the greed and pride of the most wealthy and cultured nations in the world.’
Davey also was inspired by the ecumenical Agape Community in Italy during the war.
While the play is based on Davey’s diaries, it is a fictionalised account, with Davey’s character going by the name of Tom Moore. It features the war years of 1944-1945, but we also see Tom as an older man, facing an unexpected encounter with a younger woman whose life was damaged by the Troubles and who unfolds her story, looking for his help. Orr said:
‘Together the central characters ask each other the painful questions – Is forgiveness possible? How does reconciliation happen? And can we ever recover the truth about the past? It is more important than ever that we address these themes, in a society that still has not healed.’
Orr is a historian whose books include the acclaimed The Road to the Somme: Men of the Ulster Division Tell Their Story. He was also co-author, with Alan McGuckian, of the play ‘1912: A Hundred Years On,’ commissioned by the Centre for Contemporary Christianity.
The Belvoir players are one of Ireland’s leading amateur theatre companies and operate from their own modern, custom built 200-seat Studio Theatre at Belvoir Estate, Belfast. The play will be directed by Trevor Gill who recently directed an acclaimed abridged version of ‘Hamlet.’ The production was supported by the Royal Shakespeare Company’s ‘Open Stages’ initiative. Gill said:
‘We are very pleased to be able to stage a new play by a local author. Philip Orr has done an excellent job in relating events which happened during WW2 to the challenges faced by Northern Ireland society today. We feel that audiences will be both challenged and entertained by the production.’
Gladys is a Research Fellow in the Senator George J Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice at Queen’s University Belfast. She also blogs on religion and politics at www.gladysganiel.com