1912, A Hundred Years On

I said in a post at the turn of the year that we needed more pieces of theatre to make us think being performed in venues that are not sterile black boxes... And last night I saw the very epitome of that: 1912, A Hundred Years On - a dramatic exploration of the year that saw the signing of the Ulster Covenant, written by Philip Orr and Alan McGuckian, produced by Contemporary Christianity and performed by Ciaran Nolan and Neil Wilson in Knock Presbyterian Church as part of a whistlestop 2 week tour of Northern Ireland.
Knock was NOT one of the Presbyterian Churches which acted as venues for signing the covenant, despite it's relative proximity to Craigavon House which was James Craig's base of operations... Some of my own family signed it, some simply marking it with an X because they were illiterate, and some signing it with their own blood, and they did so in the porches of two different Presbyterian Churches in Co Tyrone. It would be interesting to see this performed in one of those churches (although I think one of them is no longer in existence a hundred years on).
As a piece of theatre it is a little didactic, and is a bit like a dramatised version of one of the old "Beginners Guides", owing its form to Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop and countless "Theatre in Education" productions, but, because it was tightly focussed on a single year, it didn't have a single dramatic narrative to hang the information on, with the possible exception of how it impinged on a couple of fictional Catholic characters in the Antrim Glens. So I felt curiously detached from the whole thing. But it was well performed, and well received... And well worth seeing in the four remaining performances... They are talking about another run in September, presumably in time for the actual centenary of the signing.
History buffs probably won't learn anything new, but then the real issue is not the facts of what happened then, which as the production pointed out was a function of historic and global factors, but what are the implications of all of that here and now...
There are discussions after each of the performances to help explore that... and they might be interesting given some of the venues, but I nipped out during the tea and biscuit break before the discussion started last night... 
It made a refreshing change to think about Belfast 100 years ago and it not to have a "Titanic" brand on it... But I did find myself wondering at one point whether more people died because of the Covenant, directly and indirectly, than ever died on the Titanic?
There have been and will be many revisionist analyses of the Ulster Covenant (including what seems to be a somewhat contradictory position taken by Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party for which he has been taken to task by Nelson McCausland). This is not one of them... it simply tells the facts in a dramatic fashion, offering perspectives from both sides of our divided community. I have no doubt that a hundred years on if I were asked to sign a similar document I would refuse on theological and political grounds (the covenant theology outlined in the Ulster Covenant is Biblically illiterate and actually a simple act of political camouflage to encourage others to sign it)... But all of that is with the benefit of hindsight, which, as we all know, is always 20/20. The real question is whether I would have signed it had I been encouraged to by my elders and betters a hundred years ago?
That is the real question... and the truly dramatic dilemma...


A more thorough review of the play by Tony Macaulay can be found on the Culture Northern Ireland page at http://www.culturenorthernireland.org/article/4839/theatre-review-1912-a-hundred-years-on

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