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Belfast Blitz: new immersive theatre experience as W5 partners with actor Dan Gordon

Dan Gordon has written and produced a different type of drama that brings the reality of war to the forefront

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Marty Maguire and Jo Donnelly in It'll Never Happen Here!

Marty Maguire and Jo Donnelly in It'll Never Happen Here!

Marty Maguire and Jo Donnelly in It'll Never Happen Here!

The effect on a city not prepared for wartime involvement was played out last night at a new immersive theatre experience in Belfast’s W5.

It’s Never Happen Here! written and directed by Dan Gordon recounts the story of the Belfast Blitz, often using first-hand accounts of those who experienced it.

The cast of characters are performed by actors Jo Donnelly and Marty Maguire who bring the reality of war to the forefront.

Gone is the stage; instead, Jo, Marty – and their different guises – move between the audience. Coupled with multi-screen projection and 360-degree audio-soundscape technology, those in attendance are delivered a unique visual and acoustic evening.

While there is some seating, audiences are mainly standing to take in the surrounding drama – bear this is mind if you’re planning a visit.

This is immersive theatre quite unlike anything I’d ever enjoyed before. Images of Europe gearing up for war surround you, while Jo and Marty quickly bring the possibility of war close to home.

The overriding feeling is that many in Belfast, a city woefully underprepared for attacks, did not think war involvement was a possibility.

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Actors Jo Donnelly and Marty Maguire perform in It's Never Happen Here!

Actors Jo Donnelly and Marty Maguire perform in It's Never Happen Here!

Actors Jo Donnelly and Marty Maguire perform in It's Never Happen Here!

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In fact, many believed German forces wouldn’t have enough fuel to fly across Northern Ireland.

Two characters, Aggie and Maggie (using plastic hair curlers on a most unexpected prop) discuss the daily goings-on in the city: whether their husbands will sign up, hiding a certain important document from the local money lender.

Peppered throughout the show are genuine accounts from children, viewing the consequences of wartime in myriad ways.

From the young boy who didn’t want to leave his new county home after being evacuated, helping the baker and getting a warm soda for his breakfast every morning, to the young woman who moved to her aunt’s home in Donegal and badly missed her mummy, these matter-of-fact diaries add sadness and a little humour for what was to come.

And it did arrive. On April 7, 1941, an attack on the city’s docklands tested Belfast’s defences. Just a week later on Easter Tuesday, April 15, 200 Luftwaffe bombers attacked again. This time, an estimated 900 people died and 1,500 were injured.

Bar those attacks on London, this was the greatest loss of life in any night raid during the Blitz.

Jo and Marty skilfully play politicians and air raid wardens, using torches to shine a light on the information they pass to the audience.

Archive photography – much of which came from the Belfast Telegraph – allows Jo and Marty to speak to the audience while in character. It is a clever and effective means of feeling part of such an important historical event for Belfast.

There’s an eeriness throughout – because you anticipate the noise of bombing much sooner than you hear it. A few minutes of darkness as the volume increases, as the planes fly lower, as they prepare to unleash their deadly cargo… And despite expecting it, when the bombs drop, well, it’s very difficult not to feel moved.

It’ll Never Happen Here! leaves you wondering about the human repercussions of war, particularly given current world events.

It’ll Never Happen Here! A Belfast Blitz Experience takes place at AMAZE in W5 on selected evenings from 9 – 23 April. Tickets are priced £10 plus booking fees. Visit www.w5online.co.uk to book.

This show is not suitable for young children and is recommended for an audience of children aged eight and over and adults.

You can watch a trailer giving a flavour of what audiences can expect can be viewed here


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