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Review Round-up: Critics Hail 'Vital' Long Kesh

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Chronicles of Long Kesh opened to critics at the Tricycle Theatre last week (16 March 2010), following a sell-out tour of Ireland and an acclaimed run at last year's Edinburgh Festival.

Whilst dealing with all the major events at the prison such as the 1974 burning of the camp, the Dirty Protest, The Hunger Strike and The Great Escape, the play also explores individual experiences of the inmates at the Long Kesh prison, better known as The Maze.

Written by Martin Lynch, who interviewed over 40 ex-prisoners, officers, welfare workers and family members, Chronicles of Long Kesh was first seen on a sell out tour around Ireland before its hit run at this year's Edinburgh Festival. Directed by Lynch and Lisa May, the cast includes Billy Clarke, Chris Corrigan, Jo Donnelly, Marty Maguire, Andy Moore and Marc O'Shea.

** DON’T MISS our Whatsonstage.com Outing to CHRONICLES OF LONG KESH on 30 March 2010 – inc EXCLUSIVE post-show Q&A with the cast! – for only £13.50!! – click here to book now! **

  • Giles Cole on Whatsonstage.com (four stars) – “A helter-skelter production reminiscent in style of the mould-breaking Oh! What A Lovely War … Scenes blend seamlessly into each other as the years pass and the performers break into perfectly harmonised a cappella versions of Smokey Robinson hits, which serve as commentary on the action. The show is at once joyous, scary, comical, vicious and poignant. It’s not often that one can apply such a medley of adjectives to the same play and have them all carry equal weight … This is not an evening for moral debate about cold-blooded killing, but it is powerful theatre, containing a multiplicity of finely-drilled performances … The show is directed by the writer and Lisa May with tremendous pace, gusto and conviction. Even if your political views are way out of line with those under examination here, this is an ensemble performance to savour.”
  • Lyn Gardner in the Guardian (three stars) – “Who would have thought you could make vivid musical theatre by blending Motown hits with the dirty protests and hunger strikes that took place in Long Kesh (now the Maze) prison in Northern Ireland during the Troubles? Surprisingly, Martin Lynch's account of inside life really works, even if the political complexities go largely unexplained. This is an evening that is never complicated when it can be popular, one short on real history and long on personal experience. But against all odds, its simple staging and terrific performances blend with an acute understanding of the human cost of armed struggle to make an unexpectedly enjoyable and affecting night out. You could accuse the show of a sneaking sentimentality, but it never glamorises these men while celebrating the extraordinary human ability to normalise any situation.”
  • Fiona Mountford in the Evening Standard (four stars) – “An important drama, impeccably presented … a high-energy account, using a six-strong ensemble … A terrific work by writer/director Martin Lynch … It’s vital that we, in this part of the UK, never forget the recent history of another part that can seem distant in so many ways.”
  • Benedict Nightingale in The Times (three stars) – “Does he acknowledge that some of his characters were responsible for horrific deeds? Not sufficiently. Does he give his Protestant prisoners as thorough a hearing as his IRA activists and sympathisers? No … But Martin Lynch is even-handed enough to show that the victims of Long Kesh included wives, children and the likes of Billy Clarke’s Freddie, a decent prison officer reduced to alcoholic tatters by the hatred, the suffering and a sadistic fellow screw … Indeed, my main objection is that the play would have mattered more if it had been staged before the Good Friday agreement and the Maze’s closure. Lynch’s riposte is that this would be “like reporting on a football match having watched only half the game”. Still, we are watching vividly staged history, not events that demand action now.”
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