Hark: You would have been only a kid, Dido.
Dido: There were no kids after Bloody Sunday.

With this year marking the 40th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, there are a number of arts events happening in the city where British paratroopers shot dead 13 Derry citizens – with another later dying four months later – during a Civil Rights march on 30 January 1972.

In my opinion, the most important of these will be seen at the Millenium Forum this week, when Frank McGuinness’ Carthaginians opens for a 5-day run before it goes on tour the length and breadth of Ireland.

It is important because this is the first time a Milennium production will have gone on tour the length and breadth of Ireland from Cork to Coleraine, Dublin to Galway, but it is important too because, as director Adrian Dunbar points out, the play the drama can play its part in furthering the “closure”’ which the city and especially the kith and kin of the victims saw with the publication of the Saville Report and the apology proffered by the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, in June 2010.
”There has to be redemption and closure of course, and there has been a certain amount of closure but there are still some things left to do,” he told me after rehearsals during the week.

It’s been more than 18,600 days since Bloody Sunday, a huge period of time for the people who lost a son or a father or a friend on that infamous day and by extension, the whole city and the whole nationalist community in the north.

“It hard to accept the loss of a loved one,” says Dunbar, so how much more harrowing was it for those who had their nearest and dearest maligned for such a long time.

Carthaginians is set in Derry cemetery, where a vigil is being held by a small group of people who survived the killing on Bloody Sunday united in the collective guilt of the survivor

The group have been brought together by a woman mourning her dead daughter and all believe that the dead are about to arise from their graves.

Throughout, the characters talk of loss and struggle of a community that is trying to come to terms with the destruction of their native city.

Today, Adrian Dunbar is well-known as a great actor, director, writer and singer but he was a schoolboy of 13 when Bloody Sunday was flashing across his television screen but he remembers it to this day.

“Yeah, I remember the shock of it at the time,” he told me. “It was a bit like 9/11, You couldn’t really believe what you were seeing and you couldn’t believe that it was only 60 odd miles up the road from where you were living in Enniskillen. It was a shock but then everything became very real.”

And from that brutal reality, the Donegal playwright Frank McGuinness, created his deep, poetic, artistic, funny, thought-provoking play.

What was the connection McGuinness saw between Derry and Carthage, an ancient city in the north of Tunisia which was destroyed by the Romans in 146 BC?

“Well, Carthage was a city that was destroyed by something but had to re-invent itself. It became a new city and that is what the name translates as. So as well as being something that has been destroyed, it could also be something that was new, a new city.”

Carthage became a new city and with the City of Culture coming in 2013, the All-Ireland Fleadh and all the other work being done in the city, Derry has also the opportunity to run itself into a “new city” to find some sort of redemption for itself.
But Carthaginians isn’t just about Bloody Sunday. The main character, Dido, is a transvestite, a fact that shows that if Derry is to re-invent itself, then there are other issues to be dealt with too.

There is a play-within-a-play which Dido has written, called The Burning Balaclava. It is the comic centre-piece of Carthaginians but while we are laughing, it raises important questions about the Troubles at the same time.

Like all great drama, it takes something limited to a time and space and turns it into something all-embracing.

So at last, Derry is not just telling itself how great it is, it is going to tell the whole of Ireland, Europe and the world.

You can see Carthaginians at:

22 – 25 February 2012 Millennium Forum

27 February 2012 An Grianan, Letterkenny

28 & 29 February 2012 Market Place, Armagh

1 & 2 March 2012 Hawk’s Well, Sligo

3 March 2012 Town Hall Theatre, Galway

5 & 6 March 2012 Riverside Theatre, Coleraine

8 March 2012 Burnavon Theatre, Cookstown

9 & 10 March 2012 Pavillion Theatre, Dublin

12 – 17 March 2012 Civic Theatre, Dublin

22 – 24 March 2012 Belltable Theatre, Limerick

26 – 31 March 2012 Everyman Palace, Cork

2 – 7 April 2012 Lyric Theatre, Belfast

11 & 12 April 2012 Strule Arts Centre, Omagh

13 & 14 April 2012 Ardowen Theatre, Enniskillen


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