Arts

We'll Walk Hand In Hand leaves you with a sense that we still need the spirit of the 60s

A scene from We'll Walk Hand In Hand by Belfast playwright Martin Lynch

THEATRE REVIEW

We'll Walk Hand In Hand

The Lyric

Belfast

WE'LL Walk Hand in Hand, on tour after a final night at the Lyric Theatre on Saturday, is Martin Lynch's take on the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland. And history according to Mr Lynch is one of two things. Either a serious retelling, as in his superb First World War drama, Holding Hands at Passchendaele, or humorous, as in the popular Troubles According to my Da franchise.

His new play is, you could say, a mix of both Lynch genres. It's about the 1960s civil rights protests and their effect on Northern Ireland, without of course forgetting the Troubles. It is by turns moving and ribald (scenes of sexual experimentation got a laugh of recognition).

The action is framed at first by older versions of our Romeo and Juliet couple from different flag-waving communities, Vincent Maguire (convincing Noel McGee) and Lesley Gilmartin (Susie Kelly), who observe their younger lives. They see themselves as passionate student protesters caught up in the famous Long March to Derry that ended in violence.

The arguments were well done, the complex politics acted out with the nascent IRA unit shaping up under Vincent's stern dad. This commander isn't interested in Martin Luther King, just discipline. A revealing moment was when Vincent, whose brother hates his weedy pacifism and knocks off his glasses, breaks down and says he loved his father. "He was a good man, he didn't have a chance."

The personal is political as the slogan of the time had it. It's also economic and Martin Lynch doesn't ignore the Catholic unemployment figures.

Although a framing device risks detachment from the drama, there was enough action and movement and music to carry the big drama through to the second half and the present day.

Suddenly, the issues had changed – abortion, racism, gay rights, Northern Ireland coming to terms with a not always brave new world. Possibly the narrative wasn't so clear and the singing wasn't always on key while the soundtrack moved on from Dylan.

Emer McDaid was superb as Michaela, Lesley's granddaughter. The humour as Vincent (John Travers) watched his future life unfurl, raging against his divorce and worse, an enthusiasm for golf, was entertaining. His older self has to resist hardening of ideas rather than arteries.

We'll Walk Hand in Hand by Green Shoot Productions is the result of academic engagement with Queen's University and community involvement. In the ensemble, Warsame Mohamed made a very good stab at Mike, the initially feckless, good-looking love interest of Michaela.

It was a good-hearted conclusion, with standing ovation, and a sense we still need that spirit of the 60s. As John Hume put it, the challenge of civil rights and the northern Irish question remains the same – equality.

:: At the Lyric Theatre, Belfast, until Saturday March 31, then touring to Sean Holywood Arts Centre, Newry, April 10; Playhouse, Derry (plus post show talk with Eamonn McCann & Bernadette McAliskey), April 11; Marketplace Theatre, Armagh, April 11; Burnavon Arts Centre, Cookstown, April 13.

 

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