Belfast Telegraph

Shipyard play revival at risk due to lack of funds

A play highlighting sectarianism in Belfast's shipyard will not be performed in the near future because of lack of money, it has been revealed.

Sam Thompson's epic Over The Bridge drew large crowds this month for its gritty portrayal of the worst of the yard's bitter divisions — 50 years after it was first produced.

In it, a shipyard union man is mauled to death by an angry Protestant mob after he stands by a Catholic colleague who refuses to leave his work in the middle of the 1950s IRA border campaign.

Playwright Martin Lynch is behind the reworking of the masterpiece and said they had been invited to travel to Glasgow, Londonderry and London.

“There is no grant available from the Arts Council or anybody else to do the tour,” he said.

Trade unions helped fund the modern production and the cast was cut back to save money with many of the female characters removed. It is set in the Waterfront Studio — two stages, two levels, an array of ropes and ladders and a cast of 20 shipworkers going about their business.

James Ellis, producer of the Ulster Group Theatre, had accepted the play for production.

However, in May 1959, the company's directors withdrew the play just two weeks before its scheduled opening; they described the play as ‘full of grossly vicious phrases and situations which would undoubtedly offend and affront every section of the public’.

Thompson's play was finally staged in January 1960 at the Empire Theatre. It proved a tremendous success, and toured Dublin, Scotland and England.

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