Theatre of Witness : Two Productions

imageWitnessing is the prevailing essence of the works produced by The Playhouse Derry.

The Original Stories are formed on interviews with the people who tell their own stories through this device of putting to a wider audience the meanings, perceptions, understanding, devotions and beliefs they have journeyed with while others misunderstood, misrepresented them and used them for their gain. Without this knowledge we are nowhere. We are in limbo unable to understand or turn to listen to their voices.
From out of events they come into most peoples lives and leave again unattended. They gather momentum however and gather listening each time so determined is their will that they do this not for themselves but for others and ultimately us.

One near the end puts across without any possible cause for denial that we, they must resolve these issues so those following do not have to.
This is the ancient denial which has caused continual hatred, continual lack of contrition or repentance. The denial in answering to Gods laws.
God can only forgive if the sin is shown as sin and the offence is clear in the perpetrators mind that they owe the harmed answers for their pain.

A burden is not shared by sharing it in secret. It must be borne witness to, it must be a Mea Culpa. A veneration of the absolute. The acceptance of repentance. The realisation that to ease pain honour must be given to those who felt and feel that pain.

Both of these new productions are resulting from the interviews carried out by two writers and their assistants who take their source to be the actual and the real. They are mentored in this by the experienced originator of the method of the Theatre of Witness form, Teya Sepinuk The co-ordinator for both and the Playhouse Derry is Emma Stuart.

First is

Unspoken Love by Thomas Spiers
Stories of mixed marriage in Northern Ireland, exploring issues of sectarianism, family legacy, trauma and love, performed by two mixed marriage couples.

Most people know of a mixed marriage either in their own family or in their community. It is still carried forward by the sectarianism that is rife within the Church, churches which refuse to believe their is only one God and worship therefore should not divide into industrial sized businesses with a set of company policies. It is often the case that unbaptised couples cannot be married in a Church they would otherwise worship in, or that their race prevents them from having their marriage union witnessed within their community of friends. Co-religionists , secular, atheist and others attend Church weddings and in France the Church is not required to participate in marriage functions, it being the nation which performs witness ceremonies.

In America ‘To kill a mockingbird’ more than pointing to a base and prejudicial trial of a black man defended by a white man, was in fact a display of America’s inability to accept cross racial sexual relations and foremost therefore in denying the possibility of marriage between races. The segregation in the film played on the interracial sexual tension at a poor class based level. It ignored the equality implicit with marriage which probably came out of the mores of white racists from Britain, Ireland, Germany, other European settlers whose fear then became the mainstay of the widespread sectarianism practiced by the Evangelist today, without acknowledgement of Gods own word.

The prejudice in Unspoken Love is told by the performers of their own communities turning against them “letting the side down” sending a couple hate letters. The Catholics sending Mass cards and sympathy cards showing the degree of their own embitterment and hatred they had been taught to exercise by their piers and in their families. It came following a time when each religion would look out for one another, live on the same street, would get medicine or shopping. Then the persons for whom life divisions paid handsomely, the leaders of industry, enclaves of voters, Republicans and Unionists whose identify amounted to a coloured piece of cloth for which many of their predecessors had died and who are not here to speak of the valueless death that became them.
Unspoken Love
There are Jo and Roly McIntyre who are alone together. Roly tells of his adopted upbringing by his Grandma who replaces his mother and speaks of his absence of a father. He talks of this isolation before marriage and the hurt it caused. Finding himself the subject of the attention of Jo one night he is bound up in love from the very start as the each find a soulmate as well as a partner for life. Jo has from the age of 14 been without a mother. It had taken her a long time to consider her own life and her father she gets along with though he too suffers eventually grave il health. This broadens the resolve of each of them as it does the tenderness felt, along with the sorrow woven in the instrument of the play. The stories themselves are cross community pictures showing the idiocy of even remarking on this amidst the immensity of the all important love found.
The most important legacy is the listening. Listening to each other and hearing through gesture and their bodies reflections of each other the unspoken fears and worries contending with them everyday. There are too many single lines and revelatory passages to become a reporter of the words, the performers create the feelings within the words and project them as you are unlikely to see in conventional theatre.

Witnessing is the embracing human condition we find ourselves joining in with those willing to tell us of their lives and the passage of feelings from stage to audience and back again is vivid yet soft and unseen, as the waves of emotion drift in and out celebrating these people hoping parallel and not so parallel influences will keep the path narrow and straight for all of us who take heed.

There is Sharon and Stephen
It is an altogether different story. It has however been marked by the same vile old prejudices which some pass off in the name of religion.
While there is faith however their is hope and also knowledge these people are not right, that God shows us a better and wiser way.
If you are born into a certain background which the parents have chosen to bring up their family, it creates sometimes immediate differences that set you out from your friends. If the son of a policeman, even one retired through injury, it still allows others to make ridiculous assumptions, to conjure up an outlet for their embitterment and prejudices.
That is what appears to have happened in the early part of Stephens life but he is the victim of an immense tragedy when he is reaching adulthood, at 18. The intensity of feelings are drawn out by Stephen as he relates this passage of his life, his real life again here remembered and shared as a symbol of human cost. He shared meeting Sharon much the same way Jo and Roly met, more or less in an instant deciding a future together was what each wished for most.
The same outpourings of hate came, the same narrowing of friends and some very unexpected calls, again “you are letting the side down” from people you would least expect it from which Sharon speaks of.
In the telling of these stories is everything, as the memory is untroubled by doubt, it is recollection taked out of the body as the body has kept it.
No room for hypocrisy as it would have no place in the mind after this.
It is a priceline to be a witness for them and to listen to their testimony.
Many passages are difficult to take in as they are portrayed matter of factly and cause us to be even more deeply. It meets you in reflection and strikes a chord within, remaining there.

The masters of plays, let’s leave out William Shakespeare as he himself stopped writing plays lest his hidden catholic upbringing and own faith challenged the authority he often rallied against. In the subject of religion he would begin in his plays forcefully, whenever – and it seldom surfaced – and took it along becoming more secular, less concerned with the fixity religion pronounced. He preceded the enlightenment and the reversal of fortune of the Churches setting themselves up with self glory. This anti-dote was not able to be extrapolated by Shakespeare.

Instead if you look at the work of Ibsen and in Ghosts particularly he realises we are creatures of the habits of others. While in Northern Ireland these are violent aspects, less Scandinavian they are nevertheless unresolved generation to generation.
” I am have inclined to think we are all Ghosts…not only what we have inherited from our fathers and mothers that exists in us, but all sorts of old dead ideas and all kinds of dead beliefs and things of that kind. …..and we rare so miserably afraid of the light.”
Ibsen is concerned also besides this fact of our currency with the power of ideas. If only he lived in times were there were more attentive reasons to occupy the mind than social morals and he is considered by those of his time, (though not now I would suggest; his thoughts and plays are more relevant today,) to be formulaic and with fixed rigid principles. Instead he bears fruit when it comes to the merits of heroic works and idealistic faith driven rebellion. Silence is never an option nor ignorance. The facts have to be faced and unearthing them should not disturb the universe or universal truth which is the mantra used and in shame. Hedda is neurotic in her play and morbid and when she destroys things, a vase of flowers, a manuscript she is in one possible reading, referring to her past and the power of the dead over her. Both examples of the past concerning us.
I hope she is destroying the fabric of meaningless experiences and bourgeois life’s she finds herself in. Otherwise her madness would be even harder to explain.

Second is

image

Our Lives Without You.
Rita Bonner, Sister of John Laverty, Eileen Corr, Daughter of Joseph Corr, Aisling Devlin, Greatneice of Alice Teggart, Pat Quinn, Brother of Frank Quinn, Alice Teggart, Daughter of Danny Teggart and Briege Voyle, Daughter of Joan Connoly.
Everyone who has watched this performance will have it engraved on their hearts, this set of lives interwoven and part of our relation to the community in which they tell of is as much our past as theirs. Part of that community is the perpetrator, the soldiers who took the lives of the ordinary people of Ballymurphy injuring many others over three days in August 1971.
There has been no holding to account for the deaths and injuries nor has there been any proper response by several Governments since that time.
The Newspapers that described the dead as armed terrorists and members of the IRA still sell newspapers to this day. They tell an untruth still, they provide a lie to justice every time they report on the Governmnt withholding the enquiry into their own acts of violence perpetrated by an Army whose job it was to protect not destroy. The psychopaths carried out random and unwarranted killings.
The terrorist is the gunman and the bomber. The terror is within their own head. The fear is the terror they have accumulated and severe reality in the thick of an unconscionable cause. The taking of live their act of terror in on themselves from which they never can escape. that they should reach a place where they have become so fearful they are themselves terrified, is a place in which Northern Ireland has occupied and continues to occupy, through the denial which goes on and on and on. The misguided and irrational belief in Amnesty is without Gods Law. There can be no peace until the truth is revealed and is explained. There is no entitlement to Amnesty of any kind and the truth has its place in the present.

Each of these testaments and voices need to clear the names of the ones that left them. They need our continued support.
For the audience memories have come back with each story most probably, of ones lost to them, the ones they will never see again.
Talk is of coffins and memories and this sweeps around the whole theatre as being so much a part of everyone
The 6 people who told a part of the larger story spoke of losses from some 40 plus years ago and campaigning this last 20 years. Of how each day is so painful as they endure the lack of faith and will for the truth to be told. They encounter daily denial by people who are contaminated once they utter the denial. People like Tony Blair, Police Chiefs, Hermon, Flanaghan, Orde, Baggott and all the Northern Ireland Secretaries of State they answered to with the latest Theresa Villiers clearly denying for her Governments sake and her own place in Government, their culpability in hiding these atrocious acts of the past and of enquiry leading to convictions.

This is what the performers live with. This gruesome sullied, tarnished, vile hypocrisy of successive Governments and state instruments which continue with denial and afford no justice in this time. They have as much responsibility as those who first called all victims terrorists and criminal in 1971. They have not stopped the lies and have no concept of Gods will or the universal laws we must abide with. This despite their false proclamation by some of being followers of Jesus and of the values they were given to cherish.

Each of the stories needs to be heard in itself from the witnesses to truth and as we are recipients of each persons testimony it becomes no place for denial. The investigations are capable of being concluded and generations be freed from carrying this burden of pain given to them by perpetrators of crime and their inner terror.

When Our Lives Without You comes to a close and the lifts rise again the whole audience rose to their feet and stood acclaiming the faith and strength of these six people in sharing their story with us over an hour and applauded them loudly and re soundly behind their fight for proper justice which is and will be only a small step towards finding humanity were it has been before abandoned.

Directed by Alessia Cartoni

The election campaign of recent days has hade many galling statements made by former perpetrators of violence and there have been others who said very stupid things.
The Department of Justice Minister came out with the idiotic claim ” This campaign has been full of Dirty Tricks.”
I would ask him are dirty tricks classified and where then does the despicable impropriety carried out by him and his assembly, to Proper Justice, of allowing Governments to hide the truth, prevent fulfillment of investigations on the Ballymurphy killings to take place be accounted for in this state. The Dirty tricks are those he has oversight on and for which the Assembly can and should force judgement on.

The 9th, 10th and 11th f August 1971 will be remembered and will never be forgotten as an act of the voilest kind by a Governments Army acting against its people.
It will never be forgotten that each successive Government put forward denials and refusal to fully investigate this.
That is until the truth is taken into account and the sustaining memory can be obtained that justice was sought and found to put this lesson behind and for it to be a burden shared by the many not the few.

John Graham

30th May 2014

Belfast

The Playhouse Theatre of Witness production 2014.
Performed at various locations throughout Northern Ireland in May 2014

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