THE Belfast Festival at Queen’s is up and running with postitive vibes coming from everyone I’ve spoken to about Dervish, Eliza Carthy and the Shattered Dreams exhibition at the RGB Gallery.

I’ve been to two theatrical events comprising three plays which were totally different in style and pace but which all packed a powerful punch.

In Lockerbie: Unfinished Business David Benson plays the part of Jim Swire as he tells the story of Pan Am Flight 103 which was blown out of the sky on 21 December 1988 killing 243 passengers, 16 crew members and eleven people who were killed on the ground as the plane wreckage and its fireball rained down on Lockerbie.

Amongst the victims was Flora Swire, the daughter of Jim Swire a GP who has never got over the death of his beloved Flora. (The family’s roots are on the Isle of Skye).

Unlike many others though, Jim Swire started his 12-year and counting quest for the truth of who killed the 270 victims at Lockerbie and to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Most interestingly, Swire believes that Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the “Lockerbie bomber” didn’t actually commit the crime and in this play which is more like a lecture really, he forensically sets out the reasons why he believes the Libyan was not guilty as charged.

That it was the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Council who did it on behalf of the Iranians who wanted revenge after the USS Vincennes shot down an Iranian civilian airplane killing 290 people six months previosuly.

(Evidence against Megrahi was handled by Dr Thomas Hayes who was also part of the Maguire Seven miscarriage of justice).

Swire’s evidence is persuasive but it is the personal moments which hit home hardest. We hear Flora as a young girl singing her favourite songs in a tape of her Swire gave to Benson and as the character tells us that many would still be conscious as the plane hurtled to earth, seats, luggage human beings falling in a dance macabre towards death, the simuated sound of the aircraft almost made you grab your seat as the horror unfolded.

Lockerbie: Unfinished Business is a wonderful play about Jim Swire’s love for his daughter and the complicity of his own nation in thwarting his attempts to find true justice for her.

(PS If you’re interested, you should go to Jim Swire’s website at

n The two plays that make up Both Sides could not be more different but address the same subject – what happens when paramilitaries get their P45s.

David Ireland’s Yes So I Said Yes, is a scabrous, surreal, slapstick look at loyalist murderer who is driven mental by the next door neighbour’s dog.

The unfolding story involves rape, murder, bestiality and Stephen Nolan  but it’s done in such a hypnagogic, cartoonish style, that, while it is not for the faint-hearted, it is hilarious. Belfast’s gallows humour has never been this pitch-black.

Ulster loyalists speaking Irish, the only Protestant left in Ulster, pregnant Taigs, fear of what is on the other side of the fence, real and imagained and Snuffy, the unemployed loyalist gunman, not sure was is real and what is just something going on in his confused mind in this “new Northern Ireland”.

*Static is the second play in the diptych, written by retired professor of English at UU, Robert Anthony Welch.

While Yes So I Said Yes is a dream-like romp, Static isfirmly rooted in the soil of south Armagh, although most of the action takes place in a  hospital ward in Belfast where Denis McShane is being treated for cancer.

The morphine is playing havoc with his mind as he ebbs and flows from the violence of his past to, well, the violence of his present. Someone has muscled into his horse rustling business and has being buying up land on his patch. The unknown interloper has to be “dealt with” but, this is the new dispensation and a word in a comrade’s ear no longer has any currency, although there are acolytes who can be called upon when some dirty work is required.

Into the scenario, arrives a flirty Claire Bristow, a young woman with more than a passing interest in McShane and his past.

Both plays are unforgettable in their own ways put together by a “government of all the talents”.

Mick Gordon made flesh Welch and Ireland’s writing enhnaced by lighting, sound and costume.

The acting is superb with the same actors in both plays.

Veteran Roy Haybeard is joinee by JD Kelleher, Charlotte McCurry, Paul Mallon, Gerard Jordan and Conor MacNeill – great south Armagh accents boys!

They were hilarious and truly frightening, subtle and slapstick, meek and menacing and always engaging.

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1 Comment

  1. Lockerbie was a powerful piece of theatre indeed – engaging and informative.
    Good write up Mr McMillen

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