From The Shipyard To The Somme: A Review by Jason Bourke

Drama Review – From The Shipyard To The Somme

In the shadow of Samson & Goliath and in the heart of Ballymacarrett a poignant story was told was told over a six day period.  Somewhat unusually for a working class area such as inner-east Belfast this story was told via stage.
With a military-like precision the show began, similtaneously forcing patrons to their seats, Connswater Community Centre was now a theatre, we could have been sat in the West-End, nobody cared, the show was primary.
From the opening exchanges one was confronted with frequent bad language, far from a criticism however, the writer was clearly aware that this was a necessary inclusion to inject raw reality into the performance.  With this the audience had immediately made a connection with the stage, an early drunken rendition of ‘the auld orange flute’ strengthened that bond and immediately one could relate to the characters.
There were lashings of local humour as the opening scenes presented a troop of men belonging to the 8th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles of the 36th (Ulster) Division in their training camp near Dundrum Bay.  The men (and in some cases boys) seemed enthusiastic about what lay before them, in many ways they were the eager souls itching for a fight ever since their involvement with the Ulster Volunteers.
We were projected back to industrial Belfast at the turn of the 20th century and to the famous shipyards which provided so much for so many.  It was here that we got an insight into the political turmoil in Ulster and the rise of the Ulster Volunteer Force.
This drama was encapsulating, it gripped the audience with what seemed like relative ease, but making it look easy is the difficult part…
As the story progressed into the opening stages of the war it was evident that we were witnessing a microcosm of Belfast’s young men at that time, they were angry, and it seemed that politics had manufactured that anger.  At times they sailed treacherously close to a sectarian wind as young Gallagher found himself the only Catholic of the group but importantly amongst friends.
There appeared to be a genuine excitement within these men as they entered the theatre of war.  (Pardon the pun)  Youthful exhuberance is an often underestimated factor when considering the motives of a volunteer, these chaps signed up for adventure and were moulded into riflemen.
The story made a clear and deliberate distinction between the UVF and the service battalions of the British army, in many cases there was extensive overlap but it is clear that life in the British army was foreign (quite literally) to that of the UVF pre August 1914.
An atmospheric mood was cleverly generated by interjections of music both during and between scenes.  Stopping short of a ‘musical’ the occassional accompaniments certainly added to the show.
One thing in particular struck me during this performance and it was the profound innocent character of these men in the face of a truely awful war.  In a ‘Band of Brothers’ type fashion the audience had fostered a relationship with these passionate characters and by the time it had reached a crescendo it was increasingly obvious that a tragedy was on the horizon.
A line which resonated with me more than most was regarding a query concerning the proposed bombardment preceeding the infantry offensive at the Somme.  One soldier observed that the Somme offensive would be virtually dependant on a successful bombardment, his officer respoded “unfortunately Francis, it will”.
A harrowing slaughter on no-man’s land brought this drama to an almost tearful climax, they had brought their politics and their faith with them to the end.
Fintan Brady deserves immense credit for writing and executing this thoroughly professional performance, a performance which was charged with emotion from beginning to end.  Full marks to everyone involved.
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