Northern Ireland playwright Philip Orr has not one but two plays based around the events of 1916’s Easter Rising and Battle of the Somme being performed in the next month.
Half Way House is on tour all over N. Ireland, January 18 - 23. click here for details
Stormont House Rules is part of 4 Corners Festival. February 4th in Duncairn Centre For Culture and Arts, Antrim Road at 7.30 http://4cornersfestival.com
Soul Surmise took the opportunity to ask Philip about the plays.
STOCKI: What made you think of doing a play about 1916?
PHILIP: The year 1916 is so important for all of us. It was mid-way through the Great War and the 36th Ulster Division, which had been dominated by men from Carson’s Ulster Volunteer Force, met a terrible fate at the Battle of the Somme. Their story would become a founding narrative for the new Northern Ireland state. Meanwhile, Irish separatists launched the famous Easter Rising in the same year and that would prove to be a crucial event in the formation of the Irish Republic. No matter what your political views, you surely could not fail to be interested as a writer in such intense and relevant history.
STOCKI: When you do decide to write on 1916, where does the initial come from?
PHILIP: I decided to locate a play in 1966, when the 50th anniversary of the two events occurred. I thought it would be interesting to see how the characters I created were handling the 50th anniversary in the light of how we are hoping to handle the centenary this year. I decided on two women characters because there is a terrible danger of telling a very male story in 2016. Each of my two women has a very different family history as one woman’s father was involved in the Rising and the other had a father who fought with the Ulster Division. In order to get them together for a challenging conversation about the past, I imagined that on a snowy night in the early weeks of 1966, the two characters find themselves stuck on a mountain pass on the way to Derry/Londonderry. They end up sharing the same room for an unplanned overnight stay in a pub in the hills. That is when the talking starts. The play is called Halfway House as the pub has that name. However, I am sure people will think of deeper meanings within the title.
STOCKI: You have ended up with two plays? How did that come about?
There is another piece that I have written for the centenary but it’s more of a dramatized debate than anything else. In this piece, two fairly vehement modern day politicians from opposite ends of the spectrum slug it out on the topic of the Easter Rising. I have called it Stormont House Rules! and again, I am sure people will see different meanings in the title but I suppose I am asking the audience to consider whether a ding-dong argument about the past is the best way to handle the subject, no matter how well-informed it is. The Stormont House Agreement did lay down certain ‘rules’ for dealing with our historic legacies.
STOCKI: Do the plays compliment each other? What ways are they linked?
PHILIP: I suppose that both plays show a pretty robust discussion going on about the legacy of 1916 but the difference is that the two politicians conduct a very noisy argument, amassing facts and viewpoints as they go, whereas the two women in the pub engage with the issues at a very personal level – for example one woman’s father, who fought in the Rising, has just died and she is still grieving for him. The other woman’s instinctively hostile approach to hearing this story is affected by a natural sympathy for a fellow human being who has been bereaved.
STOCKI: What can the audience expect from the plays?
PHILIP: In the case of Stormont House Rules, expect a detailed 45 minute argument. You will possibly need to know a bit of history and politics to follow it. Afterwards there will plenty of opportunity for continued debate amongst the audience. But the point is not to stir up hostility of course, rather to kindle discussion and get the divisive subjects in history out in the open rather than being hidden.
As for Halfway House, expect to see two very good local actors at work and expect to hear things that make you wonder whether we shouldn’t have talked a lot more about what divides us in this place, in the bygone years before the onset of the Troubles.
STOCKI: What do you hope to achieve?
PHILIP: I am hoping that we can bring drama and debate to bear on our historic legacies. One famous writer described the politics of a healthy society as being a national conversation about its identity and the direction in which it wants to move. And another writer has spoken of a country or nation as being an ‘imagined community’. The arts are the repository of imagination and the spoken and written word offer us the language in which to frame an intelligent, creative and vigorous politics. What’s not to like?