Unspoken Love: Stories of Mixed Marriage in Northern Ireland
by Catherine DOYLE for Northern Ireland Foundation
29 May 2014
‘Unspoken Love’ dramatises the experiences of two mixed marriage couples, Roley and Jo McIntyre, and Sharon and Stephen Gault. Organised by the Theatre of Witness Programme, the play is poignant, funny and inspiring. Performed at the Brian Friel Theatre, Teya Sepinuck (Artistic Director) explained that this is “people sharing their own true life stories”.
The four performers were costumed in everyday attire, reminding the audience that these are real people.
The Director Thomas Spiers said that he approached the play with the question: “What is love?” And it was through working with the McIntyres and Gaults that he found the answer.
The play begins with the four interweaving across the stage, highlighting that they have come from diverse backgrounds.
The stage set-up was kept simple with four chairs positioned away from each other, but there was no need for artifice. The setting served as a reminder that these are real people.
Roley was the first to tell his story. Mr McIntyre grew up believing that his mother was his sister and only learned the truth after finding an advertisment: ‘Protestant baby for adoption’. Talking about his marriage, he said: “Strange to think I ended up with a Catholic.” Roley described himself as coming from ‘good Protestant stock’, but fell in love with Jo anyway. This resulted in Roley being attacked and sent threatening Mass cards, “All because I was going out with someone of the wrong religion.” Being called a ‘Fenian lover’ did not affect Roley and Jo’s bond. After tearing the ‘toxic cards’ in half, he said: “I chose my life.”
Jo’s account begins with the motif of persistence, through the use of props and the script. Untangling a necklace, she said: “If patience is a virtue, I must be a very virtuous woman.” After waiting for ‘Cupid to strike’, she finally met Roley, but the relationship resulted in her being shunned, as “the invites stopped”. She said that the most frightening part was the “Intimidation factor.” Cars would follow them home; she feared “They’d take Roley out of the car and maybe kill him.” Jo was also made to get out of her car at UDR checkpoints. Her story finishes by returning to the theme of persistence: “The Bible says love is patient.”
The language of the script and acting were both natural and created a cathartic mood by starting and ending with patience and relating it to love.
Sharon’s story begins alone in her childhood bedroom and there is real sense of isolation. Sitting on a chair representing her bed, she questions her alcoholic father, “Why don’t you love me more than the drink?” At times the stage was used with imagination when the set-up changes, as she takes her chair and places it next to Stephen’s, explaining that she Feng Shuid her bedroom “just to find love”.
Sharon’s husband escaped the Enniskillen bomb, but his father was killed. This IRA attack occurred during a Remembrance Day service on 8 November 1987. Stephen gave an account of walking “in a daze” after the bomb. The trauma of his experience was palpable in his face in a way that would not have been possible if performed by an actor. Wearing his Father’s poppy on his jacket emphasised the political contrast of the couple’s background. Stephen ends his story with humour, “You’re the best wee Catholic I know. You’re my rock.” This was some well needed comedy after the distressing description of the IRA bomb.
A motif using clothing was used with Roley explaining: “The clothes of our mothers and fathers are very hard to give away,” but he does fold them, representing both couples abilities to get rid of heirlooms of intolerance.
During the reception Roley told me about playing his own life on stage: “It was healing.” This was also reiterated by Sharon, who explained that in her initial reading of the script she “put no emotions into it”. It was after working with the Director and then performing the play that she felt a “concrete weight” leave her.
Roley and Sharon’s description proves that true-life theatre can be a therapeutic experience for both players and audience alike.