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Chronicles of Long Kesh

This week, it’s history and politics in the spotlight.  We sent JOANNA BALDWIN to the Liverpool Everyman to see Chronicles of Long Kesh by Martin Lynch. The play was  produced by Green Shoot Productions who plan a new tour of the play in 2011.

One of the central symbols and images of the Troubles in Northern Ireland was an imposing H-shaped edifice, otherwise known as the Maze Prison at Long Kesh. It was here that thousands of Republican and Loyalist prisoners were interned during the region’s darkest days.

In Chronicles of Long Kesh, acclaimed Belfast-born playwright Martin Lynch weaves a compelling tale of a tragic era, tracing the lives of five Maze inmates – three Republican and two Loyalist – from the seventies to the mid-eighties and beyond.

The play is narrated by hapless prison guard Freddie (a moving Billy Clarke), whose personal life collapses around him. He represents the Northern Ireland Everyman; the men and women who looked on powerlessly as the region plunged into chaos. It was estimated that at the height of the Internment period, one in ten of the Northern Irish had a connection to the Maze.

The production leaves much to the audience’s imagination, creating mental images that pack a punch. Black humour abounds during a scene where inmates smear their cells and roll cigarettes with a certain unpleasant substance.

Minimal use of props and sombre spotlighting evoke the grimness of the surroundings and ensure the focus remains firmly on the characters.
All the inmates bounce off each other wonderfully, from scatterbrained Toot’s (Marc O’Shea) hilarious dialogues with straight man Eamonn (Chris Corrigan) and former DJ Oscar (Marty Maguire) to hard-nosed Thumper’s (Jo Donnelly) verbal japes with Hank (Andy Moore).

As the years pass, youthful idealism is swapped for hardcore devotion to the preferred ‘cause’. Innocence is lost and relationships are broken but music offers hope in the electrifying form of Motown soul and classic rock. These songs form the invisible ties that bind the two factions. The members of the cast play multiple parts, with the switching a potential cause for confusion. Thanks to strong individual performances from each actor, the major characters are firmly established before there is any danger of this happening.

Chronicles of Long Kesh deals with  complex moralities. This is no mawkishly sentimental piece, and Lynch does not shy away from the fact that these music-loving, all-too-human characters did some horrifying things.

Violence, strong language and emotionally disturbing moments make the play unsuitable for pupils below Year 11, but I would recommend a viewing by Sixth-Form groups studying Modern History, Politics or Drama.