Dan Gordon’s Belfast shipyard’s play “The Boat Factory” hits New York
Northern Irish playwright aims to open up the Belfast story to the world
When you consider how close the two communities in the North live to each other and how long they’ve fought, it’s a matter for wonder how little they actually know each other.
That means that Northern Irish actor and playwright Dan Gordon’s decision to write and star in a show about one of the most important aspects of Protestant history in the last century in the North is a show not to be missed.
Titled 'The Boat Factory,' Gordon’s new play is a love letter to the glory days of Belfast’s legendary shipbuilding industry. But he insists it’s not a whitewash or a sentimental portrait, he’s after the truth.
“I wrote this play to tell my kids about who my father was and the people around him were like and what they did,” Gordon tells the Irish Voice. “And hopefully I’ve captured that without getting too teary eyed.”
Gordon is best known to New York audiences for his dazzling turn as a Northern Irishman who gets swept up by the Republic of Ireland’s World Cup dream in Marie Jones’ Broadway hit 'A Night In November.'
It’s fair to say that Gordon’s community, the Northern Irish Protestant community, has never been great at selling themselves on the world stage.
“That siege mentality we had meant that we didn’t reach out before. We’re only now beginning to do it,” he says.
“The Ulster Scots Agency, Tourism Ireland and the Northern Ireland Bureau have all seen the opportunity to engage the wider world, with this play and the history behind it. That’s why I started rehearsing it on the Newtownards Road.”
That road, if you remember, was the recent ground zero of the so-called flag protests, where tensions erupted after Belfast City Council voted to limit the number of days the union flag was flown above City Hall from 365 to 18. Gordon’s decision to rehearse his play at the flashpoint was an invitation to his own community to reflect on their past and their future.
“I wanted to help give a voice to the Northern Irish people that’s not about the Ulster Volunteer Force or about where we came from,” Gordon explains.
Into that process he injects a fair degree of common sense, in particular when it comes to his play about the shipyards.
“If they built the Harland & Wolff shipyard in Rome it would have been full of Catholics,” he says. “But they built it in East Belfast and so there’s a very good reason why it wasn’t.”
Gordon’s efforts to engage his own community in dialogue recall the work of Derry’s Field Day Theatre Company in the 1980s. Their mission statement was to examine Irish history and the national question from a broadly Nationalist perspective. In his own way Gordon’s been doing that from a Protestant perspective for years himself.
“I want to show my community who they are, where they come from and the warts too. 'The Boat Factory' is a warts and all portrait,” he says.
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