Thursday, December 06, 2018

The Crack in Everything - 6 young lives cut short, the human cost continues as do the questions (Brian Friel Theatre until 8 December)

I feel slightly ashamed that I’m not already familiar with these stories. Maybe the thickness of the Lost Lives book is testament to the impossibility of holding any significant proportion of Troubles-related deaths in your head at the one time. Yet close family and friends of each person listed will continue to grieve and mourn their loss and will often still be asking questions about the circumstances of their death.

The Crack in Everything explains that not all the deaths were even recorded or categorised as being part of the conflict. Take Damien Harkin. A British Army lorry took a wrong turning, lost control driving down an unfamiliar and unsuitable hill, mounted the pavement, striking and killing an innocent eight-year-old boy who walked around the corner. His death was treated as a traffic accident.

Jo Egan’s play holds up the stories of six children who were killed, five in the early 1970s and one in 1981. Another eight-year-old was up a ladder cleaning the window of the family shop in Claudy when the blast from the first of three IRA bombs caught Kathryn Eakin and knocked her down to the ground.

Three 14-year-old girls: Annette McGavigan fatally wounded when the army fired into a crowd of bystanders at a riot in the Bogside; Kathleen Feeney killed by an IRA sniper who was firing at an army checkpoint; Julie Livingstone died from her injuries sustained from a plastic bullet.

Or 16-year-old Henry Cunningham killed when UVF gunmen shot at the van from a footbridge. Security forces arrived on the scene before any alert was raised in an attack that reeks of foreknowledge and collusion.

Six actors stand on a stepped stage jutting out of a set that looks like that remnants of a bombed building. The amber glow of street lights floods the theatre as the audience take their seats. Projections from Conan McIvor paint graffiti onto a concrete wall. The audience spontaneously – and somewhat unusually for theatre – applaud the end of each family’s story as a photograph of the youngster appears at three windows behind the cast.

The cast mix and match roles between stories, playing siblings, parents and friends. Their intercut dialogue flows quickly and is delivered straight to the audience, full of rich local vernacular which captures the sense of place. We’re told about the smell of gas, the sound of blast bombs, the visual effect of a petrol station up in flames. The format is dense, but the content compelling.

Afterwards I realise that professional actors Colette Lennon Dougal, Damien Hasson and Micheál McDaid have been joined by Sarah Feeney-Morrison, Maria McGavigan and Marjorie Leslie who have close links to the families of three of the children. It only adds to the already thick poignancy of the testimony, based on conversations with the victims’ families.

Garth McConaghie’s soundtrack accents key moments in each drama while John Comiskey’s shady lighting is a constant reminder of the sorrow that surrounds the stories being told, and the trauma that continues to haunt those left behind. There’s a lot of sadness and resilience, much guilt and bitterness, some forgiveness, and very little closure.

On top of the tragedy of young lives cut short, Jo Egan’s script highlights the shared theme of unanswered questions. Inquiries held before police investigations were complete, sometimes without families being informed, and without legal representation. An initial IRA denial that was later replaced with an offer to pay for the funeral and eventually a public apology. British Army investigations that lacked substance. Lacklustre detective work resulting in nothing being passed to the DPP and so no prosecutions to even consider. Long waits for Historical Enquiries Team reports.

For some families, faith sustains; for others, faith has been lost; and for one in particular, faith leaders have let them down by withholding the truth.

Most of those children would today be in their mid-fifties or early-sixties if they had lived. It was a privilege to hear their stories, yet distressing to realise that without the Derry Playhouse Theatre and Peace Building Academy (at which Jo Egan was the first International Theatre Artist in Residence) I mightn’t have been introduced to these heart-breaking reminders of the continued human cost of the conflict.

The Crack in Everything runs in the Brian Friel Theatre (walk through to the back of Queen’s Film Theatre to find it) until Saturday 8 December. Tickets are free, but booking is essential.

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