The Border makes a comeback…but just on stage, for now

Green and Blue is based on an oral archive of Royal Ulster Constabulary and An Garda Síochána officers and explores the painful, and humorous, realities faced by police who patrolled the Irish border during the Troubles.

It is a timely reminder of the uncertainty surrounding the future of Britain’s border in Ireland because of Brexit.

Anybody from either north or south who experienced crossing that border in the days before the Good Friday Agreement would not want to return to those intimidating and time-consuming checkpoints and custom controls.

Michael McDonagh talks to Paula McFetridge, the director of the all-too-timely play.

MM: When was this play written?

“We staged it first in the North in the old Girdwood Barracks as part of the Belfast Festival in November 2017. That has been turned into a cultural centre but there are remnants of the old barracks there and I wanted to put the play on somewhere that had a history, and this was a reimagined site that worked well.

“We also put on a private performance for PSNI members – then another private performance for members of the Garda Síochána in a centre in Donegal.
‘That is when the piece started, and it has gone to the maddest places since, but this is the first time that it has actually come to London.

Is the play set at a particular time before the Good Friday agreement?

“We did the show recently in Newton Abbey in a youth club and afterwards one young boy said, ‘Can I just ask you, when you get to the border what does it look like?’. He was obviously born after the Good Friday Agreement so would have no notion of those old days of border checkpoints.’”

Where did the transcripts come from and is it inspired by Brexit?

“No, that is the incredible thing about it and a complete coincidence, the play was developed
inspired by what we do.

“The majority of our work committee deals with subjects for communities from the legacy of the conflict, trying to give a voice to this history and to people don’t have a voice.

“We have done several projects over the years and we spoke to an organisation called Diversity Challenges and they had a project called Voices From The Bogs, where they tried to gather stories from RUC officers and Garda Síochána who patrolled the border at the time of the conflict and we wanted to draw on the stories and take them further afield.

“Laurence, who we have worked with before, obtained the tender to actually write this remarkable play.

“Over a two-month period, we developed it with a committee of those involved and we created this drama.

“Now we have performed it in Paris, and all over Ireland in all kinds of places from Theatres to Orange Lodges, an island off Cork, in arts and cultural centres and in some single identity communities and some cross-community venues.

‘Then we were funded by Culture Ireland to bring it to the Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith which is very exciting.

“Of course, we did not see Brexit coming at all, but it makes the conversations more interesting.

“We do a conversation with the audience after each performance and have a chat about the issues raised. The border is hugely problematic, and the politicians are just sticking their heads into the sand regarding Brexit and there is a lot of fear and anxiety about the outcome and how it will affect people’s lives from human rights issues to economic issues.

“We have another project that deals with immigrants it will even impact on migrants to Ireland.”

Do you think drama like this can influence public and political opinion? What is the purpose of it?

“Of course, because within the communities there is also a lack of knowledge and so our first job is to inform audiences about the people behind the different uniforms.

“We are dealing with the past and things that the media and politicians are not talking about. If you raise the issues of people’s stories, then you empower them to play a bigger role in social development.

“We notice after they have seen the play, people are galvanised to talk more about their communities and to make representations to their local politicians and after talking about the play they begin to talk about the type of society they want to live in and they find their voice.

“I have noticed change like that and we get invited back to communities, so we think people really benefit from seeing this.

“People say, ‘Oh, I didn’t know that about the police or I didn’t know that about the Gardaí,’ or they tell us how they felt threatened or impacted by coming into contact with the police.

“Even when we have toured in Paris people talk about their own police force and their aspirations for how they would like a relationship with the police in the society they want to live in, so it definitely has an impact.”

Do you sometimes get a hostile reaction?

“Oh God, yes. People get angry if they think we are justifying the RUC or on the other
side the Garda Síochána, but every place and reaction is different.

‘We originally toured it along the border in places like Strabane and Omagh and in some places they would have very little knowledge of the police and in others a very negative attitude to the RUC, the Gardai, or both.

“Some had endured intimidation over the years and some had changed their opinion of them. So, it is important to do the discussion after the performance of the play. It opens things up and if those discussions did not take place amongst the communities there would be a danger that trouble could bubble up again.

“We need to have a society with a police force in which we all believe. We need to move the conversation forward and shake what we believe to be the truth and our memories of our
history so we can move on.”

“We never want to go backwards to, like we say in the play, two men facing each other over a man-made line in the ground – one with a gun and one with a torch.”

Blue & Green comes from the Kabosh theatre company in Belfast, is written by Laurence McKeown, directed by Paula McFetridge and performed by James Doran and Vincent Higgins. Each performance will be followed by a discussion with playwright Laurence McKeown and director Paula McFetridge.

Kabosh, founded in 1994, is an independent theatre company focused on creating new theatre in interesting places using the history, stories and buildings of Northern Ireland as its inspiration. It says it is committed to challenging the notion of what theatre is.

Performances on Saturday 13 and Sunday 14 October at the Irish Cultural Centre Hammersmith Centre.

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