The Playhouse to stage new drama 50 years on from Bloody Sunday

A scene from The White Handkerchief.A scene from The White Handkerchief.
A scene from The White Handkerchief.
To mark the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, The Playhouse Derry will present The White Handkerchief, a major new drama taking place in the building that was the intended destination of the protest march through the city on January 30, 1972.

The play’s title is inspired by the enduring image of Father Edward Daly, waving a blood-soaked handkerchief as he led a group of people attempting to escort a young victim to safety. Broadcast across the world as part of global commemorations of Bloody Sunday, the play will be performed by the people of Derry, following the creation of The Playhouse’s new musical theatre academy.

Written by Liam Campbell, who sadly passed away on December 20, 2021, The White Handkerchief will premiere on January 30 ,2022, the 50th anniversary of the day on which 14 unarmed civilians were killed by British soldiers during a protest march against internment without trial. The play will tell the stories of the lives of the victims, their families and those affected by the terrible events of the day. It will be performed inside the Guildhall in the centre of the city, the building protesters were unable to reach as their way became blocked, their march re-routed and the appalling events unfolded.

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Playhouse director, Kieran Griffiths, said: “Liam Campbell has left us in legacy a sensitive honouring of the lives of those lost, a commemoration that does not diminish the horror of that day.

“It will be an elegy - a piece that marries dramatic narrative with a reverent musical score to give space for previously unexplored moments in history.

“We’re honoured and prouder than ever to let people see Liam’s final work, a beautifully written song for a day forever fixed in our city’s story.”

The production has the support of many Bloody Sunday families and wounded. Julieann Campbell, a former Chair of the Bloody Sunday Trust and an award-winning author on the subject, has supported the project since its inception. Her uncle Jackie Duddy was the first person killed. The Duddy family still possess Bishop Daly’s white handkerchief, which came home with Jackie’s belongings in 1972: “It’s incredible to think that fifty years after Bloody Sunday, these events can still be overwhelming. Derry’s Playhouse has achieved something truly unique in this production. I remember watching my older relatives - Jackie’s brothers and sisters - mesmerised at the preview performance. It was so emotional, and we cried so much seeing it all unfold and hearing the stunning music. The Playhouse has done our family proud and Derry proud. I can see The White Handkerchief on the West End stage and Broadway. It’s just amazing.”

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For the play’s premiere, the handkerchief which inspired its title will be displayed in the Guildhall. The bloodstained handkerchief was held and waved by Fr. Edward Daly as he helped to move wounded 17-year-old boy John ‘Jackie’ Duddy to a place of safety. Jackie Duddy was to die on Bloody Sunday, becoming the first victim. Fr. Daly administered the last rites.

A scene from The White Handkerchief.A scene from The White Handkerchief.
A scene from The White Handkerchief.

Gilly Campbell, Head of Community Arts and Education, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, said: “This production and its accompanying educational programme, demonstrates the power of using the arts as a peacebuilding tool to create open dialogue around challenging and sensitive subjects. The Arts Council is committed to supporting work that offers career development and performance platforms for local artists and it’s terrific to see an all local cast take to the stage through The Playhouse’s Musical Theatre Academy.”

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 company will provide the ensemble in The White Handkerchief, with performers also auditioning for major roles.

Over the past eighteen months, the theatre’s online broadcasting programme has featured features concerts, events, workshops, a major Peacebuilding conference, a Digital Arts Festival for 4-7-year-olds, and the online live premiere of several new pieces of live theatre – including Proud to Be/Beyond The Labels of Me by Mel Bradley, ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN 1972: Voices from the Heart of The Troubles by Damian Gorman and Nutcase by Colin Bateman. All Playhouse productions are broadcast live, online, across the world, as well as to audiences in the theatre.

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Kieran Griffiths said, “When we embarked on a new digital journey for The Playhouse in August last year, we had no expectation of the fantastic response we would receive, or the support that would reach us from around the world. We’re so pleased that a legacy is now in place for our productions to be broadcast live, online, across the world, expanding our audience greatly. We are also extremely grateful to the Garfield Weston trust and the Arts Council for helping us to realise this important work.”

The White Handkerchief runs at The Guildhall from 30th January 2022 ~ 5th February 2022.

This show will also be broadcast live tonight Sunday January 30, 2022, and available to watch back for 10 days.

Book and Lyrics by Liam Campbell. Music by Brian O’Doherty.

Directed by Kieran Griffiths. Produced by The Playhouse.