Friday, 28 March 2008

Another good local programme shock! 'Sons of Ulster'

I am no fan of the Northern Irish actor Dan Gordon. He is best known for his role in the execrable comedy series Give My Head Peace and the other part which brought him to prominence was the lead in Marie Jones’ One Night in November – a ‘play’ which makes it its business to demonise fans of the Northern Ireland football team.

This week however, BBC NI have been showing a fascinating programme in which Gordon directs a group of prisoners from Belfast’s Hydebank Wood Young Offenders’ Centre in a performance of Frank McGuiness’ play ‘Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Toward the Somme’. The programme followed the process of Gordon selecting his cast and rehearsing the play with them over a number of months.

Last night the four part series culminated with a performance of the play given to a selection of fellow inmates, staff of the prison and a rather arbitrary group of local luvies. However it was the process of cajoling the prisoners to produce the performance through a mixture of encouragement, argument and bribery which was most compelling.

The programmes showed the dynamic which establishes itself in these institutions where any spark of individuality or initiative can be the catalyst for abuse or violence on ‘the landings’. The cast shouted, swore, walked-out, disrupted and attacked each other with dummy weapons, but eventually managed to coalesce and deliver a creditably raw performance of a powerful play.

Ultimately it seemed plausible that (as the governor of the prison believed) the play had genuinely been the positive experience that the inmates insisted it was. They did seem to progress in terms of teamwork, focus, confidence and ambition through the exercise. Some no doubt will re-offend, but others may have been profoundly changed by performing this play.

It has been many years since I have seen the play (on a school trip in Dublin’s Abbey Theatre) and it was certainly apposite material for a group of errant young men. The parallels between the characters in the play and the prisoners who played them were evident. The inmates understood the characters and their situation innately and there were members of the group who actually were filled with enthusiasm when they spoke of the play and its themes.

For this reason alone this series was a remarkable success and for his patience and hard work Gordon deserves credit. On a side note, this series was to be shown some months ago and was pulled at the last minute. I can only assume the unidentified splodge who had clearly been edited from the final programmes was something to do with this late withdrawal.

5 comments:

CW said...

I remember one of Dan Gordon's early TV roles was in a BBC NI sitcom called "Foreign Bodies" broadcast some time on the late '80s. It was about the quasi-romantic relationships between two Protestant lads from Belfast (a sensible one and a dopey one) and two Catholic girls from Dublin (a sensible one and a dopey one) with the inevitable "hilarious" consequences. Needless to say it disappeared without a trace, apart from the odd repeat run on some obscure satellite channel.

Dinamo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dinamo said...

Despite my previous comment, the programme and Chekov's comments triggered some more serious thoughts:

Why did these young fellows resort to crime and anti-social behaviour? Are they sons of kulaks and saboteurs and why was discipline and love of the leader not developed in the Comosol?
Certainly the infantry can make use of these, but work camps are the better option in formative years. The Lubyanka should only be used for more influential elements.
Lastly, such drama should not be shown without the context of socialist realism and approval OF central arts committee though the folly of the westerners was depicted well.

Dinamo said...

Like his chums on the atrocious Give My Head Peace, Gordon has clambered aboard the BBCNI gravy train despite possessing the acting ability of a street light column. This episode is tarted up with the usual simplicities "of being on a journey" and working on "several levels" even though Gordon comes across as a hapless and rather oafish volunteer at some 3rd rate amateuar dramatics group.

Dinamo said...

Like his chums on the atrocious Give My Head Peace, Gordon has clambered aboard the BBCNI gravy train despite possessing the acting ability of a street light column. This episode is tarted up with the usual simplicities "of being on a journey" and working on "several levels" even though Gordon comes across as a hapless and rather oafish volunteer at some 3rd rate amateuar dramatics group.