Acclaimed Long Kesh drama returns to The Playhouse

'Over the Wire' actors Gerry Doherty, Martin Bradley, Pat Lynch, Micheal McDaid and Andrew Doherty pictured chatting to Fiona McCallion in the cage at The Playhouse. Photo: Aine McCarron.
'Over the Wire' actors Gerry Doherty, Martin Bradley, Pat Lynch, Micheal McDaid and Andrew Doherty pictured chatting to Fiona McCallion in the cage at The Playhouse. Photo: Aine McCarron.
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Prison drama “Over the Wire” returns to Derry’s Playhouse due to popular demand this week.

In January 2013, The Playhouse opened its UK City of Culture programme with a play by Seamas Keenan about five prisoners in Long Kesh jail in 1974.

A scene from 'Over the Wire' which is being staged at The Playhouse this week. Photo: Gavan Connolly.

A scene from 'Over the Wire' which is being staged at The Playhouse this week. Photo: Gavan Connolly.

The only piece commissioned for the City of Culture programme announced to tour outside of Northern Ireland, ‘Over the Wire’ tells the powerful and captivating story of five men’s survival in the aftermath of the burning of a Northern Irish prison.

The tour won the piece critical acclaim with ‘The Scotsman’ describing it as an “intense psychological piece” and “an impressive calling card” from the city.

Cast and new director Kieran Griffiths spoke to the ‘Derry Journal’ from inside the genuine prison cage which has transformed The Playhouse.

Gerry Doherty, who plays Dee, is a new cast member for this run of the play. He says that, despite the obvious political backdrop, ‘Over the Wire’ “is essentially about relationships and about paranoia.”

Local actor Martin Bradley as Barry in a scene from 'Over the Wire'. Photo:  Gavan Connolly.

Local actor Martin Bradley as Barry in a scene from 'Over the Wire'. Photo: Gavan Connolly.

Last year, the sell out play housed just 50 audience members at a time, pressed around the perimeter of the barbed wired cage. After watching some rehearsals at this distance, there was an overwhelming sense of discomfort at being so close, and some of the extreme uneasiness of the men is transferred.

Kieran Griffiths says: “In some ways, this cage protects everyone around it from what these guys could be capable of. There is a protective element, there are some moments in the play where some of the characters sprint for the cage and come up at it, and I imagine some of the audience members are a bit taken aback!”

There will be more seating this time around but the 50 or so seats around the cage remain.

Pat Lynch, who plays Lucas, says: “There was a performance in Glasgow where an audience member actually got up at the wire and tried to get in at me, grabbing at the cage and had to get pulled down.”

Martin Bradley, who plays Barry in 'Over The Wire', pictured at rehearsals. Photo: Gavan Connolly.

Martin Bradley, who plays Barry in 'Over The Wire', pictured at rehearsals. Photo: Gavan Connolly.

The set is impressive, the large cage surrounded in barbed wire looms where the theatre stage should be. A ton of gravel makes it uncomfortable for the characters to walk about. There’s a small plastic covered shelter that they all sleep under and a working camp fire.

The impressive sound and lighting recreates a passing helicopter, complete with search lights, and army vehicles pulling up close by.

Kieran wanted to give the production team a special mention for their incredible work on the unique set.

“They are the cage. They lit the cage, they sound the cage, they put it up, they put the razor wire up and cut their fingers, they laid the gravel.

“The blood, sweat and tears that they went through to put this together - they are the jigsaw piece that allow these guys to play.”

Pat Lynch says: “The play is asking you: is torture ever justified? And it poses the question: ‘what would you do?’”

Although the play is described as local, Kieran says: “It could be performed on any stage in the world. It’s an important piece of work. It’s current and politically relevant.”

Audiences are warned that ‘Over the Wire’ contains blood, nudity, and bad language.

It opens at The Playhouse tonight and runs until Saturday, March 22. Tickets are £12/£10 and are available now from The Playhouse Box Office on Tel: (028)71268027 or online at www.derryplayhouse.co.uk