Sunday, April 10, 2011

After Dresden

Update - review of 2015 version of play performed by Belvoir Players.

A cast of four performed After Dresden’s first public reading a few Tuesday night's ago in front of an enthusiastic audience in South Belfast. Philip Orr’s play is inspired by reading Ray Davey’s wartime diaries which described the years he spent as a army padre looking after the welfare of British prisoners of war in and around Dresden.

Davey returned to Northern Ireland after the war, and founded the Corrymeela community which is based in Ballycastle.

The play tells the story of a similar fictional figure, Tom Moore. As padre of the prisons, he has a certain amount of freedom to travel around. He strikes up a friendship with a local woman Frau Klein, a dentist in a village outside Dresden and near the castle that holds many of the prisoners that Moore is responsible for. They bond as she pours out her heartache and the war-related tragedy in her family.
“God doesn’t want us to kill our children – or other people’s children – any more” (Frau Klein)
Towards the end of the Second World War, refugees fleeing the advancing Red Army sought shelter in Dresden. Little did they realise that their most immediate threat was no longer from the east, but from the west and above.

There was a poignancy to the play’s performance on Shrove Tuesday, the anniversary of the Allied bombing of Dresden. Over three days in 1945, waves of bombers destroyed Dresden, with fire spreading quickly throughout the city. (The scene of destruction is memorably described in Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slaughterhouse Five.)

An older Moore, back in his community – The Rock – on the north coast of Northern Ireland encounters a young volunteer Siobhan for whom darkness and tragedy are a reality too through the murder of her brother some years ago. As they listen to each other’s tales, it’s apparent that both their stories are open-ended: experiences full of loss and grief, pain and sorrow. Emotions that are not quenched with fairy tale endings or neat resolutions.
“This story is about an episode in my life that’s been on my mind lately, in fast the older I get the more I dwell with it. You see it’s a story with the final chapter missing – and that’s always the most painful kind.”
Philip Orr’s play constructs a moving and believable war time vignette, drawing the audience into the friendship that develops in Frau Klein’s front room. As we look through a window into the German house, the play helps us see our local conflict reflected in the glass. Can we learn how to understand our society’s pain through other’s experiences in even greater conflicts?

Through story telling, conversation, humour and song, the four inexperienced actors gave impressive performances during the two hour play.
  • Frau Klein – Frances Livingstone
  • Rev Tom Moore (senior) – Philip Orr
  • Rev Tom Moore (junior) – Jonathan Hicks
  • Siobhan – Lucy McConnell
There are early plans to perform the play in Coventry next year: a city with close links to Dresden, and whose cathedral has a long-standing relationship with Corrymeela. After Dresden should have as strong resonances as they watch and listen, and examine their past in the reflection of Philip Orr's story.

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