Thurs 31 March
“The only time you get to see the sun is when you fall asleep and dream.” (Prisoner Oscar)
“How do the fuck do you fly?” (Prisoner Toot talking to the birds)
“There is freedom in laughter” (Prisoner)
Such was life in Long Kesh/The Maze in Northern Island throughout the 1970’s and 80’s, when members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) were imprisoned because of their fight against the `iron rule’ of Margaret Thatcher.
The Chronicles of Long Kesh coloured in the decades of shocking headlines I recalled flashing through the newspapers of my childhood, giving them the comprehension and understanding of all the small print and much more. Playwright Martin Lynch is a listener, a reader and a passionate storyteller. His script shows the political enormity as well as human fragility of one in ten Northern Irelanders who were involved in the prison: either as prisoners, employed as Prison Officers/staff, or family and friends existing around the rioting perimeter.
It’s a powerful play without fancy sets; there are no showy costumes or flashy lights, just the full power of six actors on stage doing their thing. After an initial adjustment to a couple of strong accents, I was effortlessly focussed for over two hours, through their physical presence, voice and comic timing.
The unaccompanied singing and harmonies conveyed the `realness’ and the Irishness of the humour and pain. Prisoners singing to each other through their cell doors kept them buoyant in their fight for freedom and human dignity, while it was also an indicator of how a ‘Mr Charisma’ can become a crumpled man. Fight Direction from Paul Burke and the actors own physicality showed well the tension between the prisoners’ insubordinate attitude and the roughness of the officers.
The audience responded with despairing gasps, at other times in utter silence, or with laughter and finally with a hearty ovation.
As yet another political drama featured in this Ten Days festival (along with Animal Farm and Hidden Republic) I wonder whether Artistic Director Elizabeth Walsh had a political intention, or if she’s merely exposing to us what’s currently being staged in the international theatre world?