New Pat and John Hume drama to capture essence of iconic peacemakers on anniversary of GFA
Several lyrics from the opening song of ‘HUME- Beyond Belief’ – a new musical drama honouring John and Pat Hume – encapsulate the life philosophy of the iconic peacemakers.
“I've a grá for Ireland, its people, not its peat,” and, “I'm not a Catholic, when I look at what we need, I'm a Derryman, I'm a citizen, a human being,” stand out.
This week, on what would have been John’s 86th birthday, Conor O’Kane, who will play John in the upcoming Playhouse production, poignantly delivered these lines next to John’s peace medals in the Guildhall.
Conor says it is an incredible honour to have been cast in the lead role of ‘HUME- Beyond Belief’ which is the second part of a peacebuilding trilogy by The Playhouse, following the resounding success of ‘The White Handkerchief’.
The new work is written by Damian Gorman (writer), Brian O’Doherty (composer) and directed by Kieran Griffiths.
Conor has known he is to play John since last April but it has been a closely guarded secret until this week.
Speaking to the ‘Journal’ on Wednesday, the Feeny-native remarked: “I started off this morning with a wee bit of anxiety but then whenever we got into the room with everyone here today there has been a lot of love.
"I think that is because of the love everybody has for John in the city so that anxiety turned into nice warm nerves which is what you want as a performer.”
Director Kieran Griffiths described the opening song as 'lyrically beautiful’ and ‘musically gorgeous'.
“It gives you an insight into where John Hume, the character in the production, is discovering his mission, his life's mission. We thought it was fitting to do it here at the Guildhall, the place where the production will be but also right next to the peace medals.”
He adds: “There is a lot of us around the city who feel like we owned John and Pat, like they owned us and looked after us, so I think there is a great sense of us acknowledging the weight of what we are doing and also, I suppose, honouring their contribution to our lives and the blanket of freedom, I suppose, our generation is enjoying.”
The launch was attended by members and guests of the John and Pat Hume Foundation, including John’s long-standing friend and confidante Mark Durkan, Sara Canning, whose partner Lyra McKee was shot dead in Creggan in 2019, and Nancy Soderberg, a former member of the Clinton administration.
John Hume’s daughter, Aine Abbott, said: "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.”
‘HUME- Beyond Belief’ follows on from the success of ‘The White Handkerchief’ last year which focused on the Bloody Sunday massacre and in which Conor played the role of Fr. Tom O’Gara.
Kieran has a very strong sense of responsibility in trying to tackle subjects such as these.
"The trilogy was something I've had in mind for two or three years. I dared not speak about the second or third part, that it was a trilogy, until we could convince people we could take something like Bloody Sunday and maybe handle it with sensitivity and grace, not something that would hurt the human heart.”
Dramatizing the story of the Bloody Sunday families was an incredibly moving experience, he says.
“It was probably one of the most emotional moments of my life. I was very deeply moved. We held a private viewing for the Bloody Sunday families a few nights before we opened and that was one of the most nerve-wracking moments of my life but their kindness and their reaction to it settled us all down. That was our real opening night.”
Conor concurs: “I know there were a few question marks around people anticipating what we were going to do with ‘The White Handkerchief’ but being on the stage night after night and seeing the standing ovations, the emotional response that we received from the city, how it was talked about, how many people across the world saw it, it had a massive impact and was really well received by the people, by the families.”
Both actor and director acknowledge the recent loss of Pat and John remains raw. They hope the performance of ‘HUME: Beyond Belief’ from March 31 to April 7 in the run up to the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement will provide Derry with another chance to honour them.
Says Kieran: “When I was ten years old there was a young girl who died in my class, Fiona Webb. My mother, me being the oldest boy in the house, took me down and had me place my hand on Fiona's head as she was lying there beautifully serene in her wake.
"She said to me, ‘You are the oldest boy now and this is the body and the spirit is still amongst us but the spirit is gone so we lay our hands on the body to honour them’.
"During the pandemic the community couldn't lay their hands on John and Pat. So I want to say out loud that there is something about the ‘laying of hands’ that will have a very important moment in the production.”
Conor concludes: “The words that Kieran used for ‘The White Handkerchief’ was 'we wanted to create a space where the families of the victims could place their love' because that is what grief is. If we are able to do that for the Hume family and for the city on behalf of John that will be something special.”