The cast of critically acclaimed Jonathan Burgess play, ‘The Exodus,’ will return to a rapturous welcome home when the play closes its national tour at Derry’s Millennium Forum this week.
The play stars Derry actors, evergreen, Sorcha Shanahan and the indomitable, James Lecky.
Using the story of the Protestant families who left the west bank of Derry enmass in the early 1970s as its backdrop, James Lecky said: “There is a realness to the characters, thousands left from the cityside in a short space of time and this had a lasting effect on those who left, even if they never spoke about it.”
The play is set six weeks after the death of businessman Trevor’s Wife and Emma’s (Shanahan) mother.
Co. Down actor, Arthur Brown, who plays Alec Lyttle in the show said; “It is the story of two people who have never been alone in the house together, coming to terms with the drama inside the house and the troubles outside. It is the very personal story about a daddy and his daughter.”
Sorcha recalls the phonecall asking her to play James’ daughter: “The happiest phone call of my life,” she laughs albeit at James expense.
Derry theatre heavyweight Lecky, said: “This is actually the second time Sorcha has played my daughter.”
Which shows the talent of the pair as their jovial bickering is more akin to rival siblings. In fact the pair are well known to each other. Not only does their remarkable acting talents perennially have them cast alongside each other but they are both members of the ‘Love the Concept’ comedy ensemble.
Their outing in The Exodus centres around the devout, respectable Trevor, who, according to the publicity, is struggling to come to terms with the recent death of his wife and support his daughter Emma, (Shanahan), through this difficult time. While dealing with their personal grief, outside their front door the on-going violence and unrest in their city threatens their home, family business and very lives.
“It is not a ‘Troubles play’ per se,” he adds, “Yes one of the main issues is the examination of the Protestant exodus and its impact on not only these three people but the entire community. All this despite the fact they are trying to keep their head below the parapit.”
James, who has starred in countless local productions during his 15 year acting career, described The Exodus, in what is a remarkable compliment, as: “The most powerful play and one of the best things I’ve been involved with in my career. Jonathan (Burgess) continues to go from strength to strength, his writing is incredibly powerful. As an actor you are always hunting for good parts and Jonathan writes great parts. There is depth, drama and comedy.
“I would say this is the best thing he has done in his career.”
Sorcha adds: “I have learned to look at the city, my home town, slightly differently now. I grew up in Rosemount and to think that so many families left in such a short space of time, that the change to the demographics of the area happened so quickly. Protestant neighbours disappearing overnight and those hard decisions had to be made quickly. Once mixed streets abandoned by Protestant familes is an issue that not only needs to be marked but the effect that the process would have had on a generation of people who grew up in the cityside and had to leave so quickly should be acknowledged.
“It is the most interesting and moving play I’ve seen in a long long time and explains a lot. I have a new understanding of how those who left for the Waterside feel about the Cityside. The play genuinely gives understanding to an issue I never discussed or understood but something that is genuienly important in the history of the city. That said it stands on its own merits as a piece of drama fact or fiction.”
It certainly isn’t an issue that was openly discussed: Arthur who is also employed by Blue Eagle Productions said: “This is a story which had to be eeked out of people.”
James continues: “I grew up in the Protestant tradition and evemn though I was born in the Cityside and we moved to the Waterside when I was young, I was basically unaware of the whole thing.”
Playwright Jonathan Burgess said: “As a man who was born and bred in this city, I am so excited to be bringing The Exodus back home. This is the first time however that a production that I have written and directed is being performed there and although it is slightly daunting I am thrilled to be given this opportunity.”
The Exodus stage play is part of a trilogy of resources which have been developed to tell the story of the exodus. A book “The Exodus is now available priced at £5.99. A accompanying website will also be available for people to share their own exodus stories – www.theexodusni.com
The Exodus shows at the Millennium Forum on September 29 box office 028 7126 4455.