Lives Remembered

Stewart Love: Prolific playwright and brave chronicler of social issues

Stewart Love pictured in the programme for his play Me Oul Segocia, which premiered in 1980

THROUGHOUT his life Stewart Love enjoyed two loyal audiences, each respecting him and his talents.

The first was the children he taught and nurtured both at Kelvin Secondary School in Sandy Row, among them future snooker star Alex Higgins, and, when I met him, as a teacher of English at Dundonald Girls High School.

Indeed, before he became a professional playwright he wrote plays for his pupils to perform, instilling in them a love of the English language and drama.

The second were the theatre audiences who engaged in his writing, his insight and his humour.

I first came across this modest man from east Belfast when he brought a manuscript to the Arts Theatre and met the artistic director of the Ulster Actors Company, Roy Heayberd.

It was the script of Me Oul Segocia, one of the first plays to examine the complexities of Catholic families living alongside their Protestant neighbours in the turmoil of the 1960s.

He wrote of the Marshalls, Dolly her brother Arty and her son Danny. They had been intertwined with the Dorans for over 30 years and the fact that Cassie Doran and her son Pat were Catholics had never been of any importance.

Like their mothers before them, Danny and Pat grew up side by side in the same Belfast street. They had their differences, like any two boys, but for ‘me oul segocia’ and his mate these were always easily overcome.

Then the awful truth began to dawn on the families and, at the world premiere at the Riverside Theatre in Coleraine in May 1980 and then at the Arts Theatre in Belfast the following month, the audience was gripped by the tensions building in the neighbourhood and between the two boys and the brutal climax to their friendship.

I will always remember what to me was the most sinister line that held a dreadful meaning: "Times are changing, lines are being drawn." And the Troubles gathered pace.

Stewart had written the play for BBC Radio 4 in August 1979 and it was an immediate success.

Before this he had another notable success when he introduced Dandy Jordan, a shipyard worker played by Jimmy Ellis, who dared to be different, standing up to management and wanting to live his life his way, and so The Randy Dandy took a public look at a proud Belfast man in the sixties.

Before the play was shown on BBC television there was a warning that it was unsuitable for people of a nervous disposition.

Stewart was working again with the Ulster Actors in 1982 with another world premiere, this time the two-act comedy Football Crazy starring the late Leila Webster, the story of a fanatical football family in Belfast.

He was prolific, notably The Big Long Bender featuring free love and hippy culture, The Big Donkey, again set in docklands and the relationship between father and son, as well as Titanic which he wrote for the Bart Players.

He has been described as a playwright with a bite, a brave-hearted chronicler of social issues. He wrote these and many more plays which now place this dramatist foremost in the annals of our theatre history.

Stewart maintained it was easy to write about Northern Ireland because it’s an interesting place.

“Who’d want to write about Switzerland when nothing ever happens there?” he said.

“All the goings on at Harland and Wolff with strikes and pay-offs, then the Troubles - conflict makes excellent material for drama and we’ve always had plenty of that.”

Stewart Love died on September 14 at the age of 87.

We offer our sympathies to his wife Elizabeth and his family.

Anne Hailes

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Lives Remembered