Belfast Telegraph

One-man DUP play cuts it at Edinburgh Fringe, now writer eyes party's conference

By Ivan Little

A new one-man play about the DUP and the controversies surrounding the party over issues such as gay rights and abortion has opened to mixed reviews at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

The play's Co Armagh-born writer John McCann denied that DUPed was a "hit job" on Arlene Foster and her colleagues, and offered to bring it to the party's next conference.

Dundee-based McCann, who won a Fringe award several years ago for Spoiling, a play about Scottish independence, says he decided to write this hour-long piece four years ago after conversations with friends in Scotland about the politics of Northern Ireland.

He was struck by the realisation that so few of them had any knowledge of what was going on in his homeland, and that pals were unaware of the row over Pastor James McConnell's sermon, when he said he didn't trust Muslims and that he viewed Islam as "a doctrine spawned in hell".

It also appeared that former DUP leader Peter Robinson's support for the pastor and his comment that he would "trust a Muslim to go to the shop for me" seemed to have gone almost unnoticed across the water too

"That's when the seeds were planted," said John of the narrative, which ranges from the rise of the DUP under founder the Rev Ian Paisley, through the Troubles, to the 'supply and confidence' deal with the Tories.

DUPed also deals with the party's opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion. It has been long-listed for the Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award in Edinburgh.

McCann, who uses a megaphone to recreate Paisley's thundering speeches, said: "I wanted to give people in Britain a little bit of an education about some of the realities of the political situation in Northern Ireland and about the wall you come up against in terms of equality issues within certain sections of the DUP."

He said people in Britain needed to be aware that referendum results in the Republic over abortion and same-sex marriage had left Northern Ireland on its own in western Europe in terms of equality.

To write the piece, he conducted interviews with people here, including religious figures, community and political activists and journalists to get their perspectives.

"They had all spoken with the DUP or dealt with the DUP and the show basically evolved from those discussions," he said.

McCann concedes that not talking to anyone within the party was a weakness. However, he added, he did have conversations with people who are still trying to "empathise and engage" with the DUP on different levels.

His play also criticises the attitudes of the party's opponents.

For some, said McCann, the only engagement they want with the DUP is to call members "bigots" and toss brickbats.

"You have to find another way to make all this work," he added, revealing that he had found himself being challenged during the evolution of the play.

"I didn't want this to be a hit job on the DUP. I wanted it to be something that might start a positive conversation. Some audience members have said it's not a hit job, but others have said that's how they see it.

"At the end of the show there's a chink of light. Most people who've talked to me afterwards said they left with a feeling there is hope; that there is a more progressive wing within the DUP who want to have more engagement and want to speak in different ways with and about the LGBT community, for example.

"My personal hope is that the various strands will nourish each other and that people with different views from the party line might be able to speak freely."

The Scotsman newspaper was upbeat about DUPed, being performed at the Sweet Grassmarket venue in Edinburgh. Its reviewer said: "It's a presentation which works because of its strongly theatrical storytelling sensibility, leading us through four interviews with prominent religious, activist and journalistic figures.

"McCann is a clear and evocative orator and storyteller and the journey he takes us on is captivating yet the real power of his play is in its finale."

A British Theatre Guide review was more critical. It said: "What we hear seems less a dramatic event than a thoughtful set of reflections linked together by their criticism of the DUP.

"However, to be a monologue that does more than mildly pass the time, it needs a more substantial story and point to it."

The play doesn't dwell on the RHI scandal, the party's opposition to an Irish Language Act or the suspension of Ian Paisley jnr over his Sri Lankan holidays, though his "repulsion" over gays and lesbians does feature.

McCann added: "When it came to the DUP I was spoilt for choice, and not in a good way. The narrative could change every day if you wanted it to.

"So I just stuck to my guns and kept the play to what was happening up to the point of my writing it."

McCann said he hoped the DUP would take him up on his offer to present DUPed at the party conference.

"That's where I want to do it. The DUP would be my ideal audience. It would only be an hour of their time and I would gladly talk with them afterwards."

McCann said he wanted to bring his play to a wider audience in Northern Ireland as well.

"I believe that it does offer something new," he added.

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