On John Hume’s 86th birthday Playhouse announce Conor O’Kane will play him in new musical drama

Today, on what would have been John Hume’s 86th birthday, The Playhouse have announced that local actor Conor O’Kane will play the role of the former SDLP leader in a production that will be screened live internationally from the Guildhall ahead of the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

The Co. Derry actor has been announced as the lead in a new musical drama about John and Pat Hume.

From March 31 to April 7 this year, to mark the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, The Playhouse will present ‘HUME- Beyond Belief’, a major new musical drama honouring the influential peacemakers.

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The play will be performed in the city’s Guildhall but also screened across the world as part of 2023 global commemorations of the Agreement.

Conor O'Kane

‘HUME- Beyond Belief’ is the second part of a peacebuilding trilogy by The Playhouse, following the resounding success of ‘The White Handkerchief’, which premiered in the Guildhall on the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, in January last year.

Performed by the people of Derry in the city’s Guildhall, the new work is written by Damian Gorman (writer), Brian O’Doherty (composer) and directed by Kieran Griffiths.

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John Hume’s daughter, Aine Abbott, said: “Our family have been huge admirers of the peacebuilding work created by (Playhouse founder) Pauline Ross and the diverse team of contributors and Playhouse staff over many years.

"Both my parents were inspired and heartened by the rich creativity, humanity and international reach of The Playhouse’s work over many decades.

The late Pat and John Hume.
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John Hume musical drama ‘Beyond Belief’ to premier in Derry on GFA anniversary
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“We are confident that The Playhouse will honour the ideals and aspirations held by my parents and the many people who worked alongside them.

"My father’s career held both triumph and hardship, but he was a warm (slightly eccentric!), kind and funny family man, a man who loved nothing more than to sing. He was a proud Derry man. It will be emotional for us to see his presence step on the stage of the Guildhall.”

Playhouse CEO Kevin Murphy said he was delighted to be able to make the casting announcement.

He said: “Conor is an exceptional talent that we are delighted to have worked with on several occasions before. He stunned us with his powerful portrayal of Father Tom O’Gara in The White Handkerchief, and has just finished a run as Leo Bloom in The Producers at The Playhouse in November.

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"His work in film has been premiered at Manchester and Nottingham International Film Festivals and his theatre performances includes work with Royal Shakespeare Company’s Dell Theatre, The Vaults London, and Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds. We know he will bring great humanity and honesty to the role.”

As with The White Handkerchief, members of The Playhouse Music Theatre Company will make up the ensemble for the production, (with some auditioning for major roles), having taken part in world class training with The Playhouse. Launched in May 2021, The Playhouse Music Theatre Company offers world class music theatre training training to those from the city who are strong theatre performers.

The production also marks the beginning of a partnership between The Playhouse and The John & Pat Hume Foundation, signifying their shared mission to promote leadership for positive change and social justice.

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Dr. Sean Farren, Chair of The John & Pat Hume Foundation said: “The Hume Foundation is delighted that Conor O'Kane has been chosen to play the role of John Hume in the eagerly awaited production ‘HUME- Beyond Belief’ to be staged on the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

"The production will remind us all of the drama behind that agreement, its values and its principles. Above all it will remind us of John Hume's dedication to non-violence and to the peaceful resolution of conflict.”

Gilly Campbell, Director of Arts Development at the Arts Council of NI, a key funder who announced their award of £50,000 for the production in July, said: “Following on from his incredible performance in The White Handkerchief, we welcome today’s casting announcement, that Conor O’Kane will take on the lead role in ‘Hume- Beyond Belief’.

"We look forward with much anticipation to the opening of this important production at the end of March, which will undoubtedly hold much appeal for both local and international audiences.”

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Last year, announcing the project the director Mr. Griffiths, said: “While John Hume has been described as a ‘Titan’, a ‘Giant’ and a ‘Hero’ of peace-making and reconciliation, ‘Beyond Belief’, in its words and music, will reach for the man: the man who achieved all he did not glibly, without struggle or alone, but as a human being. In representing John Hume, his life and his mission – a mission never fettered by shibboleth, dogma or fossilised tenet – Beyond Belief will seek to inspire those generations through words, music and song.”

The production is also supported by The Irish League of Credit Unions (ILCU) to mark John and Pat Hume’s contribution to the Credit Union Movement in Derry and throughout Ireland.

Originally from County Derry, Mr. O’Kane trained at Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts.

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He was also nominated Best Male in a Musical by Off West End for his performance as George in Miss Nightingale at The Vaults, London in 2017.

Most recently, he performed in The Talk with Fly Away Home Productions which has been selected for the Chicago Irish Film Festival after winning the Audience Award at the Clones Film Festival. In January he starred in the world premiere of The Playhouse production of The White Handkerchief as Father Tom O’Gara.