Actor Gordon to put Ian Paisley centre stage once again
Whether you like him or loathe him, there’s no arguing the Rev Ian Paisley is one of Northern Ireland’s best-known faces.
Indeed the firebrand preacher had such an affect on one playwright, he has found it impossible to escape the 86-year-old’s influence several decades after leaving his native Northern Ireland.
Now Emmy Award-winning writer Ron Hutchinson has channelled his fascination in to a new play about the former DUP leader.
Mr Hutchinson — who left Islandmagee as a boy and now lives mostly in LA — penned the drama Paisley And Me which will tour province-wide later this month.
The production examines a colossal figure in our history — and how he continues to shape today’s Protestant community.
Mr Hutchinson was inspired to write about the former First Minister because of an enduring influence on him since his childhood.
He said: “My parents were married for 60-odd years, and the only thing they ever fought about was Ian Paisley. My father was a country man and my mother came from east Belfast so they both had very strong views. So this was a very personal piece for me.”
The Hollywood writer said he found the production difficult to deal with.
“It wasn't an easy piece to write, I had to move away from family influences and try and figure out what Ian Paisley meant to me, as an ex-pat Protestant Ulsterman. And it's difficult to deal with that on a page. Writing makes you very honest,” he said.
Hutchinson travelled from LA for yesterday’s launch outside the Martyrs’ Memorial Free Presbyterian Church built by the Rev Paisley on Belfast’s Ravenhill Road. He said he still couldn’t conclude how he felt about Lord Bannside.
“The play is basically me having a conversation with myself, trying to work out how he has shaped my identity and my view of home,” he said.
“I'm returning to confront a few old ghosts that have been following me about the world since I left Islandmagee.”
Belfast actor Dan Gordon will be playing the Big Man.
“I found myself empathising with the man,” he said. “This play is not what people will expect, it's by no means a kitchen sink comedy.
“This is one of the most influential plays in a long time. It asks questions about Ian that people ask themselves at home.”
Gordon — well known for his role as Red Hand Luke in the Hole In The Wall Gang — has spoken to Ian Paisley jnr about the play.
“We're not doing anybody a disservice here,” said the actor.
“Rev Paisley’s a complex character. I've been in his company four times and only spoken to him once in real life.
“I was in a cafe once in east Belfast with a friend and in came Big Ian with [his wife] Eileen and one of his daughters.
“I was nudging my friend saying: ‘Look, it's Ian Paisley’.
“Next thing his daughter nudged him and said: ‘Look, it's Red Hand Luke’,” he laughed.
Belfast-born director Matt Torney, who now lives in New York, said that audiences of all ages will be able to identify with the play.
“It's not really a play about him, it’s more of a search for Protestant identity and culture in the current Northern Ireland. We try to understand him, as he made us what we are today. It's not an attack, it's an attempt to have an honest conversation and get some answers.”
PaisleyAnd Me writer Ron Hutchinson has focussed on his own family story to explore the influence of the Rev Paisley over so many decades. The play will tour Northern Ireland taking in the Market Place Theatre, Armagh (Oct 26-27), Belfast’s Grand Opera House (Oct 30-Nov 3), Braid Arts Centre, Ballymena (Nov 5), Craic Arts Centre, Coalisland (Nov 6), Burnavon, Cookstown (Nov 7), Strule Arts, Omagh (Nov 8), Down Arts Centre, Downpatrick (Nov 9), Alley Arts Centre, Strabane (Nov 10).