Amelia’s ‘One Day in Derry’

Local Actress, Amanda Doherty, at the launch of the programme for the Earhart Festival. (1105SL02) Photo: Stephen Latimer
Local Actress, Amanda Doherty, at the launch of the programme for the Earhart Festival. (1105SL02) Photo: Stephen Latimer
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‘One Day in Derry’ captures the essence and spirit as well as the historic events of May 21 1932, and was specially commissioned from two award-winning local playwrights, Carl Campbell and Jim McClenaghan. These talented writers have drawn extensively on archive material recording Amelia Earhart’s arrival in Derry. Added to this will be the creative flair, mastery of dialogue and poignancy that ensured the success of the duo’s début play, Dealing With Dougie, which won them the coveted Greer Garson Award.

Speaking to the ‘Journal’ this week, writer Jim McClenaghan explained that the new piece is loosely based on Amelia’s 24 hour stay at a local family - the Gallagher’s - home during her brief visit to the city.

“Its basically the story of how two very different women from two different parts of the world meet and interact - one of whom is a progressive feminist, and one, an ordinary Irish Presbyterian woman,” Jim says.

“We began writing in January and so I guess it took around three months or so to come to this point. With so much archive material available from the Central Library and elsewhere, it actually turned out surprisingly easy to tell the story once we got to grips with the ideas behind it and the themes of strong women from opposite ends of the world. It’s about how this one Derry woman was affected by this feminist from a different world - a woman who could stand up for herself and who insisted that women could do anything that men could do.”

Jim and his co-writer Carl Campbell worked diligently on producing the script for the play. “We got together as often as we could, usually two or three nights a week mostly at Magee,” Jim says.

“We also brought the drafts to the Page to Stage class that Felicity McCall facilitates, where we could perform it and gauge people’s reactions and see what worked and what didn’t work. It’s a serious play with funny elements within it, we took liberty with some of the characters!”

Under the inspired direction of Dr Matt Jennings and with a cast comprising some of the North West’s finest thespians, including the gifted professional actor Amanda Doherty in the role of Amelia Earhart, audiences can expect a production of international standard and appeal.

According to the Earhart Festival Director and Producer of One Day in Derry, Olly Green: “This fictional, inspiring play tells the story of one local woman’s encounter with one of the most progressive, non-conformist, pioneering women of the 20th Century and the impact that meeting would have on that Derry woman’s attitudes to life,” Mr Green explains.

“Greater Shantallow Community Arts is proud to have commissioned this production and The Earhart Community Arts Festival is proud to host the first of what I am confident will be many, many performances of One Day in Derry.”

Actress Amanda Doherty, who plays Earhart is understandably thrilled to be portraying one of history’s most inspirational women.

“It’s really invigorating to play such a strong role and to play someone with whom I feel a natural similarity to,” she told the ‘Journal’.

“It’s also incredibly uplifting going into rehearsals and playing a character who is so inspirational in herself and, of course, it’s a privilege playing someone whom I admire so much.”

The play’s director, Dr Matt Jennings, relocated from Australia to Derry and is well-known in local circles thanks to his expertise in community theatre. He said: “You can expect an exciting, informative and innovative form of entertainment that tells an important story drawing on the local history and heritage of the city. So expect to laugh, to learn, and to be surprised by new ways of dealing with an old story.”

Having proved his skill with various other GSCA projects including the extremely successful production of ‘The Playboy of the Western World, Matt was only too happy to become involved in One Day in Derry. “I’m working with an excellent group of actors, many of whom are trained and highly experienced,” he says. “It’s also been very exciting to work in the new Greater Shantallow Community Arts Studio 2 space in Skeoge - it’s such a great space to work in.”

The play will feature a stellar cast. Ann Gallagher, playing Mrs Gallagher in the Amelia Earhart play, was the lead in ‘Bremen Freedom’ (also for GSCA and The Earhart Festival) in Shantallow and at The Playhouse in 2010. Ann has also been seen in Derry in recent years, in Mouthpiece Productions’ ‘Whose Afraid of Virginia Wolf?’ and ‘Abigail’s Party’.

Amanda Doherty, who has recently returned from training as an actor at Mountview Academy, is playing Amelia Earhart. Jack Quinn is based in Ballybofey, but was most recently seen in Derry in ‘The Shadowmen’ and ‘See No Evil’ for Sole Purpose Productions, as well as Big Telly’s production of Spike Milligan’s ‘Puckoon’ (2009).

Louise Conaghan recently featured in ‘Heroes with their Hands in the Air’ at The Playhouse, and Steven Graydon is a local 17 year-old who has done some youth theatre and is excellent in this production. And Malcolm Granville, who is doing the set design, is a former airline pilot.

Appropriately, the world premiere performance will be hosted by St Brigid’s College in Shantallow, close to the spot where Amelia Earhart landed - on the actual 80th anniversary, Monday May 21, starting at 7.30pm.

To celebrate this special anniversary, the Festival moves to its new dates of May 14-21. This marks the next major step in its planned and steady transition from a community event to one of international standing.

For more information, contact the Festival Office at 65, Galliagh Park, telephone: 71. 357443 or email: donna@gscaderry.com.