The Far Side of Revenge
by Andrew Graham for Northern Ireland Foundation
21 May 2013
“Healing happens on its own,” according to Teya Sepinuck, director at Derry-Londonderry’s Theatre of Witness. Three years after the first run of I Once Knew a Girl, the American director, along with Margo Harkin at the BBC, has produced a short film about the stories and the processes that lead up to this stirring play.
The Far Side of Revenge borrows its title from another play by Nobel Prize winning Irish writer Seamus Heaney, and tells the story behind I Once Knew a Girl. The play opens on a group of six women on a minimal stage reading letters of sympathy to ‘Mrs. Gillespie’. As each woman reads out a letter, we learn that Mr. Gillespie has been killed in a bomb attack by the Provisional IRA. For those who haven’t yet seen the play, I won’t reveal much of the details in this — but we soon learn that Mrs. Gillespie is one of the women here on stage and her husband the coerced victim of a proxy bombing. The full story is harrowing and, though it is used as the pivot of the action of the play, this alone does not dominate the narrative. Each of these women has been deeply affected by the Troubles and each of their stories carries a huge weight.
This play isn’t about peace-building and reconciliation. Teya herself states plainly that it isn’t intended as a form of therapy or healing – these are outcomes not goals. And yet through the coming together as equals of a victim of an IRA attack, a former IRA member, a serving PSNI officer, a resident of the Shankill Road who admitted that, as a teenager she simply didn’t like Catholics. All of these women were directly affected by the Troubles — we can see how these processes have brought this disparate group together.
What the play does seek is for the members of the audience to “recognise themselves in each person [on stage]”. In doing so, a kind of healing is brought about. As someone who was directly affected by the troubles myself — after a death threat in 1992, our family abandoned our home — I can see the importance and courage needed to bridge those spaces between one another to build a future we can all take part in. This show reminds us that the human stories that run through the conflict are what make up the political story. This show serves as a stark reminder of that.
It’s important to note that the fragility of our peace is marked by Maria, the PSNI officer. Her appearance in the play is pre-recorded and shown on screen, as she felt it would be irresponsible even now to put the other cast members at risk of any kind of attack.
“Pure hatred … I couldn’t bear that human beings could sit down and plan such a thing … I was living on pure hatred,” was Kathleen Gillespie’s feelings after her husband’s murder, and her friendship now with a former IRA member sum up the kind of journeys you’ll witness in this play.
After seeing it himself, Seamus Heaney said, “This was the best thing to come from [my] play”. Tall praise indeed.
Copies of the DVD are available from The Playhouse in Derry/Londonderry. Contact Emma Stuart – firstname.lastname@example.org
In autumn 2013, BBC NI will be showing another production from Theatre of Witness – We Carried Your Secrets – telling the stories of seven men affected by the troubles – http://www.theatreofwitness.org/we-carried-your-secrets-video/