Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 31 August 2014

Meeting At Menin Gate: The Troubles drama that may be too hard for some audiences to sit through

Andrea Irvine and Jimmy Doran are starring in Martin Lynch's latest play, Meeting At Menin Gate
Andrea Irvine and Jimmy Doran are starring in Martin Lynch's latest play, Meeting At Menin Gate

The producers of a new play depicting the aftermath of the Troubles for victims and survivors have predicted audiences may walk out in protest.

Belfast playwright Martin Lynch has chosen to tackle the deeply divisive issue of how to deal with Northern Ireland's troubled legacy in his latest play, Meeting At Menin Gate.

The production, which opened at the Mac in Belfast this week, explores the "tense" outcome when a Protestant woman confronts a former republican involved in her father's murder.

It is based on a true story.

While politicians have been wrestling with the issue of victims, the play faces the impact of living with the past head on.

Mr Lynch called his play "a good audit of where we are today", while director Matt Torney said that he believed the play's tense second half might prove too much for the audience, causing them to walk out.

"I know that some people won't like us for reflecting the view of the perpetrator," said Mr Lynch about his first play since his award-winning Chronicles Of Long Kesh.

"In this play, we have made the so-called perpetrator human as well. We look at his story, where he came from, how and why he picked up a gun and what were the driving forces behind his decision to shoot people. Was he bored or did someone beat him up in the street? What's his real motivation for doing this?."

Lynch has worked on the production for the last two years but got the initial idea for it about eight years ago from a trip to Ypres, Belgium, to visit World War One battle sites.

While gathered to take part at the moving Menin Gate Last Post ceremony at Ypres, a Protestant woman meets a republican man on the same trip, which leads to a brief romance.

In the play, Liz, a Protestant nurse played by Andrea Irvine, confronts Terry, an ex-IRA man played by James Doran, about his involvement in her father's murder.

But in the real-life incident, Mr Lynch revealed that once the woman found out about her boyfriend's past it was too much for her and she chose to leave the trip and return home.

"This issue is raging at Stormont at the moment as they can't even agree what a victim is, never mind decide whether Northern Ireland should have a Truth Commission.

"It's a very real debate with very divided and strong views from both sides," said Mr Lynch.

"But what we can do in the theatre, if someone has been really hurt, we can say that out loud in the most dramatic and personal and human way.

"While the play has been inspired by real life, I have completely changed all the story details. It's not actually anyone's individual exact story."

He emphasised that despite the dark second half of the play, there was plenty of "Ulster craic and humour" in the first act and added: "I know people will see this as controversial but let them come along and see the play and judge for themselves."

BACKGROUND

Martin Lynch's new play Meeting At Menin Gate is said to be the final instalment of The Ulster Trilogy series which explore the state of Northern Ireland today. Presented by Green Shoot Productions, Sam Millar's Brothers In Arms looked at the views of republican dissidents while Ron Hutchinson's Paisley And Me examined the loyalist position post-conflict. The new play deals with the issue of victims and survivors. The play opened at the Mac, Belfast, this week and runs until September 21. It will later be touring throughout Northern Ireland.

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