News this week that the Reverend Ian Paisley has returned to public life just months after a serious illness may have been greeted with whoops in a dressing room at the Grand Opera House.
The Big Man steps back into the spotlight just as — well, just as the Big Man steps back into the spotlight at the Grand Opera House, in Green Shoots Productions’ new show, Paisley And Me.
Ron Hutchinson’s drama — starring Dan Gordon as Paisley — is the second instalment in the company’s Ulster Trilogy, following on from Sam Millar’s drama Brothers In Arms. While Millar concentrated on republican reaction to peace, Hutchinson focuses on repercussions in the Protestant community.
Hutchinson — originally from Islandmagee — is best-known for his two Northern Irish dramas, Rat In The Skull and Pygmies In The Ruins. He moved to America 30 years ago to work as a screenwriter, and was persuaded back by fellow playwright Martin Lynch, who approached him with this idea. The ‘Me’ is Hutchinson.
“My parents were both Protestants,” he said. “The only thing I ever saw them fight about was Ian Paisley.”
And so he began to work on a drama about the life of one of the most divisive figures in recent history — the preacher, politician and former First Minister of Northern Ireland, who spent years saying “no”, and then finally surprised almost everyone by saying “yes” to power-sharing here.
Hutchinson hopes to explore the influence Paisley has wielded down the years, although he’s said he’s aware that he’s writing about a man whose story is not yet finished. And it’s not just a story about politics, just as Paisley is not merely a politician. Religion plays a major part in the narrative.
Rather than capturing the obvious characteristics of the man, Dan Gordon will be aiming to pin down the essence of ‘Big Ian’.
Hutchinson describes it as a highly personal play, in which he tries to resolve the one thing his parents argued about. Now that he’s again fighting fit, who knows whether Paisley fancies a night out to see it for himself...
Paisley And Me, Grand Opera House, today until Saturday, various times