Martin Lynch, Grimes & McKee and Dan Gordon team up for The History of the Peace (accordin' to my Ma)
After the huge theatre hit that was The History of the Troubles comes The History of the Peace, written by Martin Lynch, Conor Grimes and Alan McKee. Lynch talks to Brian Campbell about finding the humour in flag protests, loyalist leaders and ‘chuckle brothers' McGuinness and Paisley
IT’S not surprising that Martin Lynch mentions the Easter Rising of 1916 when speaking about his new play The History of the Peace (Accordin’ to my Ma), which he has co-written with comedy duo Conor Grimes and Alan McKee.
But as this play is a follow-on from the wildly successful The History of the Troubles (accordin’ to my Da) and takes us from the IRA ceasefire in 1994 to the present day, Lynch mentions 1916 as a jokey reference to the amount of people who claim to have seen the Troubles play in its first run in 2002.
“It was put on in the old bank building at the top of Donegall Street in May 2002 for 11 nights and then five more nights had to be added,” he recalls.
“So you had 100 people there each night and you want to hear how many people claim they were there on that run. It’s like the GPO in 1916. Brendan Behan said that if all the people who claimed they were at the GPO a hundred years ago were there, not only would they have freed Ireland but they’d have taken England as well,” he laughs.
Laughter is the name of the game in The History of the Peace. It’s a show from Lynch’s company GBL Productions, whose unofficial motto he says is “a great night out”.
He says his other company, Green Shoot – whose recent output includes the excellent one-woman show Two Sore Legs – is for more “worthy” plays.
The star of Two Sore Legs, Belfast actress Maria Connolly, will also be the central character in The History of the Peace, Lynch explains.
“Maria plays community worker Karen Reid, so it’s her personal journey through all the events from 1994 to 2016,” he says. “The play opens with Karen in the maternity ward of the Royal Victoria Hospital in 1994 when the ceasefire happens. When she finds out about the ceasefire she says, 'Don’t tell me I’ve come into this hospital a citizen of the United Kingdom and my child’s going to come out a citizen of a united Ireland’.
“She doesn’t go into politics. Later on she begins to question the flag protests against the Alliance Party and stuff like that.”
The cast gathered at the gates of Belfast City Hall last week to launch the play, with Tara Lynne O’Neil portraying the woman known as 'fleg lady’, who was pictured battering the doors of City Hall and who came to symbolise the loyalist flag protests in late 2012 and early 2013.
As the press took photographs, a grinning Alan McKee kept telling Conor Grimes to join in the 'No surrender!’ chants, but Grimes was having none of it.
While the flag protests were in no way funny at the time for residents, shoppers, motorists, police and anyone else who was caught up in them, they were always going to make it into The History of the Peace.
“We also have our characters doing their shift in the caravan at [the loyalist protest camp] Twaddell, we look at the debate about leaving the EU or not and there’s a section on Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley [in their `chuckle brothers' period].
“There’s a range of other mad characters: Pineapple, a UDA leader who loves his tinted hair and his pink shirts, and Roberto, who runs a struggling flute band.
“We also want to celebrate Carl Frampton and the Northern Ireland team going to the Euros. And if something happens on the day the play starts, it’ll be written in.”
Lynch says some have called the new play a Protestant version of The History of the Troubles.
“Myself, Grimes and McKee had been talking about a sequel, so we came up with the idea of moving it over to east Belfast and setting it in the Protestant community," he says.
“The consequences of the peace process and the setting up of the government here has left the Protestant community feeling that they’re losing out and particularly that they don’t have unionist politicians representing their working class communities. This play is centred on how Protestant working class communities are feeling dissatisfied.
“Karen thinks that there’s a lack of decent health facilities in her area and they start a campaign to get a big community facility for their district.”
The show opening with Karen about to give birth in the Royal in Belfast is a direct nod to The History of the Troubles, in which Gerry Courtney (played by Ivan Little) was in the waiting room of the Royal waiting for his first child to be born in 1969 as Belfast was going up in flames.
The play took us from 1969 to the mid-90s and looked back at everything from internment, Bloody Sunday, the loyalist workers’ strike and the hunger strikes to Bill Clinton’s visit to Ireland.
Lynch recalls coming up with the idea for that play while watching the news in 2000.
“I was watching the guys getting out of jail with their black bags and people were saying the ceasefire was six years old and Long Kesh was closing and there was no more violence. I was just thinking, 'Is that the Troubles over? Is it possible?’
“I’d done political plays about the Troubles and other people had done them, but what was missing was something to show the humour that I witnessed in the Troubles.
“People find it hard to believe, but it’s true; that black Belfast humour. My father had an attitude that I liked. When [the IRA] were talking about all-out war at the height of the Troubles, my da kind of said 'You shouldn’t be shooting young soldiers from Sunderland or wherever; just kidnap a few of the Queen’s corgis’.”
“Then I saw Grimes and McKee doing a show and I loved their humour. I already had the title, so I asked if they’d fancy coming in on it with me.”
The History of the Troubles has, according to Martin Lynch, been seen by 150,000 people since its original run and the many re-runs: “We took it to London and it sold out and we had it in Dublin and Gay Byrne loved it,” he says.
The History of the Peace will be directed by well-known Belfast actor and playwright Dan Gordon. One of the characters is a cousin of 'Fireball' from the original.
“Karen’s mates are Stacy (Tara Lynne O’Neill), who’s into local footballers, and Firebell, who works in the undertakers. As he says, 'Fireball does the stiffs for the west and I do the stiffs for the east’.”
Despite the new show’s title, Lynch concedes that there isn’t exactly peace in Northern Ireland just yet, when you consider that prison officers are still being killed, but points out that the subtitle is 'A peaceful tale of street protests, riots, guns, bombings and more riots'.
“The whole title makes people laugh straight away. A lot of people have been waiting for this play. It really will be a great night out,” he says.
The History of the Peace (accordin’ to my Ma) comes to the Market Place Armagh on April 13 and 14 (www.marketplacearmagh.com), the Millennium Forum in Derry on April 15 and 16 (www.millenniumforum.co.uk), then runs at the Grand Opera House in Belfast from April 18 to 30 (www.goh.co.uk / 028 9024 1919)