(Clare Brennan’s article appeared in the Observer, 4/9; Photo: Conor O’Kane as John Hume and Naiomh Morgan as his wife, Pat, in Beyond Belief. Photograph: The Playhouse Derry-Londonderry)
This musical drama about the lives of Northern Ireland peacemakers gives a familiar story a new dimension
Beyond Belief, written by Damian Gorman and composed by Brian O’Doherty, centres on two of the prime movers in the Northern Ireland peace process, SDLP leader John Hume and his wife, Pat. Commissioned to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday agreement (in partnership with the Hume Foundation), it is the second musical drama in Derry Playhouse’s peace-building trilogy, following on from last year’s The White Handkerchief, which marked the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, widely regarded as the start of the Troubles.
The thrust-stage floor is piled with rich brown earth. The gnarled trunk of an ancient oak rises from a grassy knoll, young twigs sticking out from its broken branches spattered with green leaves: “doire” is an Irish word meaning “oak grove”, which is what the place where the action is set was before it became a walled town (Tracey Lindsay’s design). Over 32 scenes, the action progresses chronologically from the late 1950s to the 2020s. Rooted in facts, it has an emblematic quality that suggests a connection to universal struggles for peace and justice.
John’s younger, fiery self is played by Conor O’Kane; his older, more weary but tenacious self by Gerry Doherty. Pat, almost always the more sure and solid, is played throughout by Naiomh Morgan. Vignettes of family life (a summer by the sea; a flight from home following a threatening phone call) are intersected by intense dialogues (a near-verbatim reproduction of John confronting a British army colonel; him telling an incredulous Ian Paisley that one day he will talk peace with Gerry Adams; Pat engaging in a coded conversation with Martin McGuinness that results in a life being saved). Violence erupts; the horror is not shirked but tempered, under Kieran Griffiths’s direction, by stylised movement. Always, the emphasis is on talk.