“Sixty-six years ago on the night of Shrove Tuesday, 1945, British and American bombers made their way towards eastern Germany where the beautiful city of Dresden had become a temporary home to thousands of refugees who were fleeing from the advancing Russian Army. During three waves of attack they would reduce the city to a charred ruin and kill thousands of people, most of them civilians.”
“Living and working near that city was one young man from Northern Ireland who had grown up in a prominent Ulster Presbyterian family and who had joined the forces as a worker with the YMCA. He was captured in North Africa and subsequently, as a prisoner of war, he was moved to Germany, operating as a padre for the other British prisoners in the region. After the war, this young man went on to become a key figure in the attempt to bring reconciliation to Northern Ireland’s divided communities.”
The 70th anniversary of the Belfast Blitz and the death and damage inflicted by the German Luftwaffe will be remembered around Easter this year. Yet later in the war, Allied air forces meted out their own mass destruction on Dresden.
Philip Orr’s new play ties together wartime Dresden with post-conflict Northern Ireland, using both situations as it explores the “difficulties of reconciliation amidst a legacy of remembered hurt”. Beginning in a reconciliation community on the Irish coast soon after the paramilitary ceasefires.
“A young woman is searching for answers to bitter hurts brought about by the local conflict. Her story is threaded with pain and disappointment. Yet she meets up with an older man whom she respects but whose account of being a war-time prisoner near the doomed city of Dresden she has never fully heard … So how will these two dramatic characters interact? And what kind of moral and emotional journey will their stories take the storytellers and the listeners on?”
The inaugural reading of After Dresden takes place in Fitzroy Presbyterian Church, University Street, Belfast on Tuesday 8 March at 8pm. Admission is free and the performance is expected to last an hour and a half.
Cast: Siobhan ... Lucy McConnell; Frau Klein ... Frances Livingstone; Young padre Tom Moore ... Jonnee Hicks; Older Tom ... Philip Orr
Philip was my English teacher at school for two years and produced some excellent school plays, including Peter Ustinov's Romanoff and Juliet and the Sean O'Casey trilogy The Shadow of Gunman, Juno and the Paycock ("Th' whole worl's in a terrible state o' chassis") and The Plough and the Stars.