There are no props, no costumes, not a single piece of lighting, but somehow it’s 1963 and we’re in Springtown Camp.
In reality it’s Saturday morning and while the Apprentice Boys march in the Diamond, I’m in the studio in the Millennium Forum with one of the finest group of actors this city has ever produced.
They’re all starring in Brian Foster’s much anticipated new play, ‘From The Camp To The Creggan,’ which opens at the Forum in October.
Writer and director Brian tells me that today the objective is to “block off” Act One before they break for the summer.
And I’m lucky enough to be able to sit in on rehearsals.
The action is set in Springtown Camp and Derry’s Guildhall back in 1963.
Young radical socialist father of five, Harry Kelly, sick with his family’s impoverished living conditions, comes up with a unique plan to show up the ‘faceless men’ of Derry’s political establishment to the outside world. Communities across the city have been invited to enter a Christmas competition, to be held in the Guildhall, to find the best short nativity play. So Harry sits down and writes a play for the local children to perform.
Brian explains that four of the play’s main characters are eight year-old children.
And playing them are Derry theatre stalwarts: Carmel McCafferty, Gerry Doherty, Pat Lynch and Bill Waters.
Within minutes of the action starting I’ve already forgotten that the children’s characters are being played by grown-ups.
Each of them has a real talent of conveying their childishness, whether it’s Pat Lynch stuttering as Paddy ‘Pee the bed’ or Carmel as ‘Shitty Kitty’ over-emphasising the word ‘Jesus’, bowing her head on each occasion she says it.
Actor Bill Waters who only makes an appearance in Act Two sits with me while the action runs through.
And he struggles to keep a straight face as we watch Act One.
Seamas Heaney plays the narrator Shugo, looking back on his days living in the camp.
It’s his role and the roles of his parents Henry and Maggie Kelly (played by Shaun Coyle and Joanne O’Reilly) that bring a serious tone to the script.
“The quality of acting in this play is second to none,” says Brian.
I can’t disagree.
In the big studio of the Millennium Forum with the large windows bringing in the light I’ve become completely absorbed in the story. It’s both hilarious and tragic.
From the story of the one legged man who gets his prosthetic stolen from outside his hut, to the adorable Paddy ‘Pee the bed’ and ‘Shitty Kitty’ getting engaged, I was in stitches.
But prepare yourself for what is undoubtedly the funniest scene of the play when Carmel McCafferty and Gerry Doherty reveal exactly how their mammies and daddies make babies.
I won’t give too much away but let’s just say they’d give Meg Ryan (‘When Harry met Sally’,) a run for her money.
There’s no doubt that ‘From The Camp To The Creggan’ will be one of the most memorable shows in Derry’s year as City of Culture.
“These rehearsals are the most enjoyable I’ve ever done,” said Brian.
If these are just the rehearsals I can’t wait for the real thing in October