“I get travel sick in the back of a jeep. Sometimes I wondered if it was really claustrophobic, four men shut inside a tin can with only a dim overhead light, breathing in the stale and recirculated air knowing there was nothing you could do but endure the bone-shaking journey in a vehicle built for survival rather than comfort.”
The words above are spoken in a trailer or teaser for the new play Green and Blue – a production that has grown out of the gathering of police stories Garda and RUC exploring the border experience in the conflict years.
Over 40 stories were collected as part of a project designed to bring the policing experience “out from beyond the stereotype of the uniform”.
Certainly the words quoted above make us think and see beyond those uniforms – put us in that cramped tin can and inside the policing shoes or boots of those made to think of survival rather than comfort.
Even today, many years after the ceasefires and the political agreements, there are those in uniform who know that journey – the not knowing what is around the next corner.
The peace is not perfect – not threat or danger-free.
“If we are to develop our understanding of the impact of the conflict with all its pain and trauma, then it is critical that many voices from differing perspectives are heard,” Will Glendinning, coordinator of the peace-building charity Diversity Challenges, told the eamonnmallie.com website.
“The police family is often the last to speak,” he said.
The collected stories have been shaped into the play Green and Blue directed by Paula McFetridge of the theatre company Kabosh and written by Laurence McKeown.
It is his role that already has attracted some attention and controversy before the play is due to be performed at the PSNI’s Newforge Country Club.
McKeown was a member of the IRA jailed for a gun attack on a police vehicle and was one of the hunger strikers in 1981.
“Judgement of the play needs to be on its artistic merit and its ability to create debate and enable an examination of our conflicted past,” Will Glendinning says.
The controversy does not pause to examine what it was like for McKeown to write this play – his stepping out of a one-time enemy relationship to hear the experience of others – something, that in his writing and on his journey, he has been doing for well over a decade.
I haven’t yet seen the play, but will watch to see how the words and the experiences of the officers are carried onto the stage.
“Many of us can be critical of what others did or did not do in the past,” Glendinning says. “If we are to help heal those wounds then the most important thing is to try to walk in the shoes of the other. The Green and Blue play aims to explore that dimension.”
We know, of course, that addressing the past was never going to be easy – was never going to be comfortable.
It is about difficult questions, difficult answers – an opening up of the conversation from what happened into an exploration of why.
All of this presents challenges.
No one will be marched into Newforge and made to watch the play that McKeown has written.
I remember the loyalist Jackie McDonald being criticised after being photographed shaking hands with Martin McGuinness. His response was to ask people to think what it was like for McGuinness to shake his hand.
The transition from conflict towards peace asks us to think differently.
What did Chief Constable George Hamilton think about meeting and debating with Martin McGuinness and, then later, with Eibhlin Glenholmes and Winston Irvine? What did they think about meeting and debating with George Hamilton?
The past is not about one set of questions or one set of hurts.
Laurence McKeown is a republican – part of a war but who understands the challenges of peace.
“My experience over the years has often been that those who suffered most during the conflict are more willing to reach out to others than those whom the conflict barely touched, if at all, and who as a result have the luxury of holding onto their prejudices,” McKeown commented.
We should watch his play before jumping to any conclusions.
(See details at www.kabosh.net)
There is no shortage of entertainment in N.Ireland is there? http://northbelfastchessclub.blogspot.co.uk/2016/10/just-man-to-head-ulster-chess-union.html