Sectarianism, racism and homophobia are alive and well in our schools in Northern Ireland. That’s the view of a former teacher Jim Arbuckle from London/derry, who works as a Good Relations Facilitator alongside the Smashing Times Theatre Company, who performed tonight in the East Belfast Arts Festival.
The group which has carried out a lot of reconciliation work in border areas through storytelling and drama staged a performance of Thou Shalt not Kill tonight in the BMC campus at Tower Street, off the Newtownards Road. For the second night running I was in a part of Belfast I would not usually visit at night. The College building is beside a flashpoint area at the Short Strand, where there have been disturbances in the past and where a police car kept watch in case of trouble. A block away is a road junction where I remember a man was shot dead eight years ago (and seven years after the Good Friday agreement) by the UVF during a loyalist paramilitary feud.
I thought of those times as I watched the performance. It began with Fiona Bawn-Thompson portraying in dance and mime a ghost of the past. Dressed in white. she appeared like a Greek muse in an Athenian tragedy. Her role at the start, in the middle between the two monolgues and at the end was a useful device in tying the two stories together, around a wreath of red roses. Fiona is a dance teacher and has used her skills to good effect in facilitating specialist workshops on racism, sectarianism and childrens’ rights.
The two other members of the cast gave very strong performances telling stories of two different victims of the ‘troubles’, one on the Protestant/loyalist side from Belfast which was counterbalanced with the story of a former republican paramilitary from Strabane. Cathy White is from Belfast but is living in Dublin and has worked for the Abbey Theatre and the Lyric. You might have seen her in the TG4 and BBC NI series Scúp, an eight part drama series by Colin Bateman, set in a Belfast newspaper.
Cathy plays the role of Alice Thompson from a loyalist area in Belfast. Alice worked in a flower shop on the Lisburn Road from the age of 17 and soon afterwards met a young Catholic lad Eamonn, who delivered flowers including red roses for her on Valentine’s Day. They started going out with each other, but her family was then threatened by loyalist paramilitaries who sent her a bullet in the post with her boyfriend’s name written on a note. Alice attempted to get the threat removed by going to a paramilitary in her area ‘Robbie McFarlane’. His response was that by going out with a Catholic, she was spitting on the graves of his colleagues and other Protestants who had been killed by the IRA.
It was a few months later as they began to plan a low-key wedding that her fiancé Eamonn was shot dead as he made a delivery to a shop on the Holywood Road. As two RUC members brought her the news, Alice described how the earth had opened up and swallowed her. She was wrapped in a comfort blanket of love by family and friends yet she could not be comforted. There were more twists in the story before the end.
Dubliner Adam Traynor played the role of Tom Mulhern, a republican from Strabane who had been a member of a paramilitary group and had been involved in attacks on the RUC and planting a bomb in Magherafelt in which a child died. He was on the run in Donegal and could not cross the border when his father died of cancer, in case he was detained at a checkpoint in the North. This was another very moving story and the topic of racism was also subtly introduced through the person of Audrey, a black woman fro Chicago who lived in Letterkenny. The story was also quite topical as it included a mention of Castlederg, where a republican march earlier this month to commemorate two IRA bombers led to protests by relatives of security force members and others killed by the IRA.
Thou Shalt Not Kill was commissioned by Smashing Times Theatre Company. It is presented in the form of ‘living theatre’ installations to explore themes of conflict and trauma. Using the body as a site of performance, memory and emotion and centering on peoples’ experience of living in Northern Ireland, ‘Thou Shalt not Kill’ imagines the future through a remembrance of things past and explores themes of trauma, conflict, forgiveness and moving forward.
Created by Mary Moynihan
- Written by Paul Kennedy
- Performed by Fiona Thompson, Adam Traynor and Cathy White
- Directed by Mary Moynihan and Bairbre Ni Chaoimh
As part of The Memory Project, Smashing Times Theatre Company is making a television documentary showing how the creative processes of drama and theatre can be used to explore memories and experiences of conflict and to promote peace and non-violence. This project is run by Smashing Times Theatre Company in partnership with Corrymeela Community and in association with CAIN (Conflict Archive on the Internet) and the University of Ulster INCORE International Conflict Research Institute. The project is funded through the EU’s PEACE III Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body.