Play about IRA's Shankill bomb gets a standing ovation on Falls
A harrowing retelling of a mother's pain at the murder of her teenage daughter in the 1993 Shankill bombing brought a standing ovation from a Falls Road audience this week.
What If, an impassioned hour-long stage play by Patricia Downey, recounts the story of Gina Murray, whose daughter Leanne was one of those who died in the IRA attack.
More than 300 people packed into the theatre space in St Mary's University College on Thursday for the performance - among them Gina herself and Alan McBride, whose wife Sharon and father-in-law Desmond were also killed in the atrocity.
Those attending the Feile an Phobail event said they did so for a variety of reasons.
Local woman Geraldine O'Hagan said: "I wanted to hear the story and see it from a different perspective.
"We're all here with an open mind."
For Caroline Clarke, it was her first visit to Feile.
"I know some of the people who were affected by the Shankill bomb, and so I'm interested to hear their story," she said.
"I've never been to the West Belfast Festival before, so I thought it would be really good to cross over and see."
The hour-long play, performed by the Spanner In The Works Theatre company, charts in searing detail the almost unimaginable grief and pain of Gina Murray as she and her son Gary struggle to cope with the bleak, unyielding fact of what happened to 13-year-old Leanne.
If such raw emotion was hard to watch for the audience, how difficult must it have been for Gina Murray, who sat in the front row as actress Collette Hart laid bare the horror that had devastated her life.
During the performance, Gina could be seen blinking back tears, and being comforted by her relatives as her story unfolded.
As the play ended, the audience came to its feet, applauding not only the performance, but the bravery of the woman who had inspired it.
Clutching a bouquet of flowers presented to her by Alan McBride, Gina told the Belfast Telegraph: "It was very hard-hitting. It brought back memories.
"I always cry.
The actors are absolutely brilliant."
Mr McBride, who was instrumental in bringing the play to the Falls Road venue, said: "I think of my mother-in-law, who lost her daughter Sharon in the Shankill bomb, and what she has had to go through, a bit like Gina.
"This play has to send a message out about the futility of violence and conflict, and that there was always a better way.
"There's not a mother in this audience that couldn't identify with Gina Murray, having lost her daughter Leanne just a few weeks after she got back from a school trip to America.
"That will resonate with every mother.
"That's why these stories are so important. It's not that I want to keep people in the past - these are warnings from history.
"I just want people to get the message, and to make sure these things never happen again.
"Lyra McKee's mother is now mourning the death of her daughter.
"These things have a habit of continuing, and we need to say 'No more: there is a better way.'" Briege Foyle, of the Ballymurphy Massacre campaign group, said she had found the play "mind-blowing".
"It just brought it all back to me," she said. "What that lady went through, my daddy went through. My mummy Joan Connolly was murdered. My daddy was left on his own with eight children to look after.
"That woman's pain, that was everyone's pain in this room, because we all identified with it.
"We could also identify with her son Gary, looking at his mother and what he was feeling.
"When you're young you don't understand. We didn't like my daddy when we were young, because he never looked after us the way my mummy did.
"We didn't realise until we were adults what he must have been going through, how devastated and heartbroken he must have been.
"It's fantastic to see a mixed community here tonight, we need to be doing this more often. The pain is the same."
Margaret McGuckian of abuse victims campaign group Savia said she was in awe of Gina Murray's bravery in sharing her grief through the play.
"It doesn't get rid of the pain," she said. "But it does something inside to help. As many people as possible should see this play. It is a wonderful thing to reunite the communities."
Udi Cohen, of Jerusalem-based organisation Kids for Peace, said he'd be taking the lessons of the play into his work in the Middle East.
"This play touched everyone from every conflict. The fear of what could happen to your kids, the horrible results of these conflicts," he said.
"Hopefully we will be able to learn from that and stop and think before someone does something stupid again."
What If will be staged again this year at the Lyric Theatre, with a date yet to be confirmed.