Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Halfway House - Philip Orr’s new play exploring 1916 from the vantage point of 1966

On a snowy night in February 1966, two women take refuge from the blizzard in a pub on the Glenshane Pass up in the Sperrins. The Halfway House is midway between the events of 1916 and today, and through the sharp lens of Philip Orr’s fine writing, it proves to be a very effective vantage point to examine the past.

Wearing heavy coats and sitting around a table sipping hot whiskies to warm up, Valerie (Antoinette Morelli) and Bronagh (Louise Parker) start chatting. They share the same home town and occupation. Family members fought in the war. Their fathers both have medals: one is a veteran the Somme, the other the Easter Rising. Both women are looking forward to events marking fiftieth anniversaries of these very different conflicts.
“Sometimes an old grudge can last longer than a world war.”

At first there’s a fair amount of levity. But the banter lessens as the diverse cultures and family history are exposed. Tensions rise, but tempers stay under control. As the audience eavesdropped on their conversation in Larne’s McNeill Theatre last night, we may not have witnessed a meeting of minds, but the quality of listening on stage was echoed in the venue’s café afterwards as people sat round and discussed the play over a cup of coffee.

On top of the naturalistic script and the deft way that historical facts are lightly woven into its narrative, another aspect of the play’s success is the avoidance of preaching equivalence or seeking reconciliation. The use of women’s voices – and the considerable talents of Louise Parker and Antoinette Morelli – also contributes to a more rounded telling to what is so often a man’s tale.

If like me your history is somewhat lacking – neither the Easter Rising nor the Battle of the Somme made it into my history curriculum before I opted out of the subject – Halfway House is a thoughtful introduction that will provide some context at the beginning of a year on which the hand of history will rarely be absent from our shoulders!

You can catch Halfway House during January as it tours through Newry (Tuesday 19th – sold out), Lurgan (Wednesday 20th), Enniskillen (Friday 22nd), Omagh (Saturday 23rd) and Belfast (Thursday 21st, Tuesday 26th). Details of dates, venues and how to book on the Contemporary Christianity website.

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