Green and Blue: Dealing with troubled stories of border policing
by Sophie AUMAILLEY for Northern Ireland Foundation
22 October 2016
The premiere of “Green and Blue” was held at Girdwood Community Hub, as part of this year’s Ulster Bank Belfast International Festival.
Produced by Kabosh Theatre, the play was written by Laurence McKeown, and directed by Paula McFetridge.
Its originality lies in the fact that it is based on interviews with former RUC and Garda Siochána officers, their testimonies gathered by Diversity Challenges and Queen’s University of Belfast.
Everything in the play comes from the stories of this archive, and both writer and director worked with the officers who wished their voices to be heard.
As Will Glendinning, Coordinator of Diversity Challenges, says, “Those who were in the police or the army are often the last people to tell their story. If we are to have a full account of the impact of any conflict and to learn from the tragedy to help us build a peaceful future, it is important that as many differing voices are heard and all stories acknowledged.”
The stage is simple: there are two guards at the border during the Troubles, one from the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) in post in Northern Ireland while the other, from the Garda Siochàna, is in the Republic of Ireland.
They are respectively played by Vincent Higgins and James Doran.
What is striking is the power of the play to engage the audience with reflections on the border and on identities.
Commonalities between the two guards challenge conceptions of opposition.
Both of them feel alienated from both communities — they get defined not by who they are, but by what they represent.
Uniforms of the two characters dominate other identities.
As the Garda officer Eddie says in the play, “You start to realise that you are an outsider, because of what you represent.”
The play is a way to question identities and conflicts often taken for granted.
It helps to represent realities, difficulties and paradoxes of the work at the border during times of conflict.
Green and Blue was a balanced way to look at the past and defy conceptions, aided by jokes, fun and songs.
A facilitated discussion followed the play.
The conversation reminded me how contentious this topic is, and how everything can be very sensitive in a divided society.
The first comment expressed the amazement of the unsuspected links between officers at that time.
A second participant remarked on the way the play humanised the characters, remembering how police officers were treated as non human beings during the Troubles.
Or as Laurence McKeown, playwright, says, “Very often we are defined, and we define others, by the role they play or even the uniform they wear. And yet we all have lives, families, loves, desires and dreams. Others are oblivious to them and often we ourselves suppress them. And maybe to survive it is safer to do so.”
Another audience member added that he sees this tendency by some young people towards police officers today, and expressed how a play like this could help educate and improve this..
A woman reflected on the symbolism of the border as being an invisible line but one that everyone knew where it was, and she liked the ingenious representation of this in the play, with either actor exaggerating stepping over an imaginary border whenever they needed to cross it.
At the end, Paula McFetridge responded to raising criticisms about the choice of the writer, being a former republican prisoner.
She reminded that he was chosen to write the play by representatives from both communities.
McFetridge acknowledged the sensitivity of these topics and acknowledged there would be strong emotional reactions that would need to be worked there, hence this post-event discussion.
She thought that the need to talk about the conflict is important, and doing this through the arts is one constructive way.
As these stories are not easy to tell, she felt that artistic perspectives can challenge things we are comfortable or uncomfortable with.
McFetridge expressed her further will for the play: to engage more with communities and with young people.
To conclude, she believed the process — whist difficult — is necessary in order to deal with our past.
Paula McFetridge, Artistic Director of Kabosh, says, “I am interested in creating new theatre that gives a voice to those we often don’t hear from, and through hearing that voice, the audience is challenged to reassess their own presumptions of fellow citizens. There are still many stories from our violent past that Kabosh draws inspiration from.”
Green & Blue is on tour in Northern Ireland and Ireland from 21st October to 5th November.