When Stephen Spielberg was making ‘Schindler’s List, in the early 1990s, he invited some of the Holocaust survivors who had been saved from the gas chambers by Oscar Schindler onto his movie set. The guests mingled with the actors and crew during a break. Amid all the lights, the electrical wires criss-crossing the set, the extras who were playing the SS chatted amicably with each other. Someone noticed something odd: the SS group – and they alone – were being shunned by Spielberg’s special guests, the survivors. This was because the extras looked so much like the real thing, they exuded a cruelty that, nearly half a century later, disturbed the visitors. I felt something similar watching the actor playing Sergeant Hutton of 1 Para during Gerard Humphrey’s riveting new play about Bloody Sunday, ‘One Para’ at the New Theatre.
Andrew Kenny plays a foul mouthed, racist bigot who bullies one of his more junior colleagues, Scarrif, urging him to shoot at the unarmed and harmless civil rights marchers in the Bogside. His bragging about his colonial exploits in 1 Para is a whirlwind education in the crimes committed by men like him. Every so often he cracks a crass joke or make a jibe that should make the audience wince but something more disturbing happens: there is nervous laughter. The audience out in the dark is cowed by Hutton. If you want to know what Stockholm syndrome is like, go and see this play.
Sergeant Hutton on internment and the Ballymurphy massacre: We sorted Belfast out in one night… You saw the photos put up on the wall in the corporal’s mess. .. we swept down the Black Mountain straight into Ballymurphy and shot forty bogwogs – we wasted eleven of them. Victor got himself a priest and all. He won the regimental sweepstake! The UDR wallahs told him he should put in for a bounty!
While the menace and darkness of this 75 minutes play shoots at the audience through the mouth of Kenny, the piece works because each cast member hits their target dead centre.
The overarching ingredient, however, is the crisp dialogue Gerry Humphreys places in their mouths. He manages to convey the complexities of Brigadier Frank Kitson, the MRF death squads, the Ballymurphy and Bloody Sunday massacres with rapid fire shots of succinct dialogue that hits you in the solar plexus. He has a genius for boiling down the complex into brilliant historical one liners.
When Hutton is asked about his actions by a military police officer he barks: “I am a professional soldier. If I had not shot – I truly believe he would have shot me!
The military police officer snaps back at him: With a handkerchief?
Humphreys sprinkles the script with the occasional piece of humour to lighten the brutal dialogue, but he does so with such subtlety and deftness that he never once crosses the line or disturbs the equilibrium of what is a deadly serious issue.
One Para is directed by Anthony Fox.
The set design is by Robert Ballagh.
The show continues until the weekend. If you can, catch it. The run comes to an end on Saturday.
OTHER STORIES ABOUT BLOODY SUNDAY, THE BALLYMURPHY MASSACRE, BRIGADIER FRANK KITSON AND COLONEL DEREK WILFORD ON THIS WEBSITE:
Lying like a trooper. Internment, murder and vilification. Did Brigadier Kitson instigate the Ballymurphy massacre smear campaign? Where was Soldier F and his ‘gallant’ death squad during it?
Soldier F and Brigadier Kitson’s elite ‘EFGH’ death squad: a murderous dirty-tricks pattern is emerging which links Ballymurphy with Bloody Sunday. A second soldier involved in both events was ‘mentioned in despatches’ at the behest of Kitson for his alleged bravery in the face of the enemy.
Mission accomplished. The unscrupulous judge who covered-up the Bloody Sunday murders. Soldier F and other paratroopers have been protected by the British State for five decades. None of them now face prosecution. This perversion of justice began with the connivance of the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, John Widgery, a former British Army brigadier, Freemason and oath-breaker.
The McGurk’s Bar cover-up. Heath’s Faustian pact. How a British prime minister covered up a UVF massacre in the hope of acquiring Unionist votes to enable the UK join the European Economic Community, the forerunner of the EU.