The Past, the Present and Prizes

Sunday was a day for prizes... Not only did my beloved Liverpool win a trophy at long last (despite their best efforts to throw it away), but Northern Irish artistic endeavours had been rewarded by two different august bodies.
In Dublin the Irish Theatre Awards had given my friend Conall Morrison the "best director" prize for his production of "The Crucible" which opened the new Lyric last year, while over in LA Terry George et al won the Oscar for the Best Short Live feature for "The Shore" (not best documenary as BBC1's man on the spot announced this morning).
Saw "The Shore" last night and it is a deceptively simple piece about personal reconciliation, set against the background of Northern Irish scenery at its best, with beautiful panoramic shots of Belfast Lough from Black Mountain, and the Mournes and Dundrum Bay from Coney Island. It was apparently devised with a very definite business plan in mind, centred on producing the film cheaply, with a few big names in the cast, winning awards and using them to drive download sales... From what I saw it deserves to be a success, and if the Northern Irish Tourist Board haven't already sponsored them, they should get their hands in their pocket and give Mr. George and his team a slice of the tourist revenue this will probably drum up... allowing them to make more of the same.
It was particularly heartening to see this having watched Graham Reid's "Billy Trilogy" over the preceding three Sundays, seeing how both film-making and Northern Ireland has moved on over the past 30 years. The "Billy Plays" formed a big part in shaping my interest in contemporary Northern Irish theatre, and it was interesting to see them again. The first of the three is undoubtedly the best... The second merely marks time while the third majors on a core theme to them all - that Northern Ireland may be filled with great characters, but it is a social basketcase and best escaped... be it for work, education or opportunities for the children. I hear the Graham Reid is now planning a follow-up, to be performed on stage, looking at how the Martin family have got on 30 years down the line... I wonder if Kenneth Branagh could be prevailed on to play the part of Billy again?
But in some ways "The Shore" is the story 30 years on... where people's lived were shaped and scarred by the troubles, with one character leaving and, many years later returning with his daughter, and having to make his peace with his erstwhile best friend. SPOILER ALERT the ultimate decision of the returnee is to keep quiet and connive with a fictionalised account of what had actually happened for the sake of his friendship.
Now the intertesting thing is that in the same news bulletin that announced the success of "The Shore" there were a couple of other stories relating to how we deal with the past. One announced that ministers from both DUP and Sinn Fein expressed a desire to share in celebrating the various potentially devisive centenaries coming up here, including the Signing of the Ulster Covenant, the Easter Rising and the Somme... I found that encouraging. Then the First Minister announced, in advance of meeting with the Secretary of State, that there should be no amnesty for troubles-related crime, nor a South Africa-style "truth commission" or any  "rewriting of history". This is in direct contradiction of the desires of Sinn Fein and the former Police Ombudsman Al Hutchinson. He did however suggest later later on that there should be some sort of "story-telling archive" perhaps at the redeveloped site of the Maze/Long Kesh prison... Perhaps Healing Through Remembering's current touring exhibition of "Everyday Objects Transformed by the Conflict" could find a permanent home there.
But is a piecemeal record of the past enough? Or should we simply draw a line in the sand and say no more? Stop picking at the scab? Least said, soonest mended.
There is no doubt that living in the past is not healthy... just ask any Liverpool supporter about that... or indeed any victim caught in their grief and loss. But an ostrich-like approach that pretends that the past is past, is the one that is most likely to produce devastating results in the future, as, in paraphrasing George Santayana's words, in neglecting the lessons of history we will condemn future generations to repeat it.
In a climate where there is no shared strategy for dealing with the past all to often it is left to the churches, psychiatrists and artists to pick up the slack in different ways...
Whether it be on gable ends or stage, page or screen our history is constantly being rewritten in order to appeal to different audiences, fictionalising particular perspectives of the past...  "The Crucible" was not simply a dramatised historical record of the Salem witch trials, it was written by Miller to point out some of the abuses happening within contemporary American society at the time of the McCarthy Commie-Hunt... a sort of twisted truth-commission of its day... And in the hands of Conall Morrison it was used to shed light on the dangers of fanaticism (be it religious or political) and how it might change our perspective of reality or history.
Art can play a part in addressing some of the issues of the past, confronting present realities and shaping our future... But it cannot and should not be required to carry the whole burden of truth recovery and reconciliation. Indeed, unless it is handled carefully it may actually exacerbate division...
If we are to find real peace in this province, it will require artists, historians, politicians, police, judiciary, community leaders, the churches and Uncle Tom Cobbley and all each to play their part... The full story may never be told, indeed, as per "The Shore" at times it is best that it isn't told... But we need to be more intentional about getting a fully rounded picture of our past and present, so that we might face a healthier future.
And hopefully Liverpool's future will look up too...


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