Life After Dresden – a play by Philip Orr

Tuesday February 1st 2011

After Dresden, a play by Philip Orr, gets its inaugural reading at Fitzroy Presbyterian Church, Belfast, on Tuesday 8 March at 8pm.

Philip is a local historian and for the last two years had led a summer school at Irish School of Ecumenics.

The play begins at 8pm and admission is free. The author has provided the following introduction:

After Dresden

This year at Easter- time, we will remember the Belfast Blitz in which hundreds of people died as the German air-force bombed this city, seventy years ago during the Second World War. It is also appropriate for us to recall that in the long war against Hitler, the allies rained down destruction on German cities in places such as Hamburg, Berlin and – in the last few weeks of the war – on Dresden. Sixty-six years ago on the night of Shrove Tuesday, 1945, British and American bombers made their way towards eastern Germany where the beautiful city of Dresden had become a temporary home to thousands of refugees who were fleeing from the advancing  Russian Army. During three waves of attack they would reduce the city to a charred ruin and kill thousands of people, most of them civilians.

Living and working near that city was one young man from Northern Ireland who had grown up in a prominent Ulster Presbyterian family and who had joined the forces as a worker with the YMCA. He was captured in North Africa and subsequently, as a prisoner of war, he was moved to Germany, operating as a padre for the other British prisoners in the region. After the war, this young man went on to become a key figure in the attempt to bring reconciliation to Northern Ireland’s divided communities. This drama has been inspired by his story, as revealed in his own writings about his war-time experiences. However it is a dramatic fiction and not a simple biographical account.

This play is also about the society we have inherited in Northern Ireland and it asks questions about the huge difficulties of reconciliation amidst a legacy of remembered hurt, placing those difficulties within the much more intense and widespread legacy of European 20th century conflict.

The drama begins in the mid-1990s, not long after the paramilitary ceasefires, at a reconciliation community on the Irish coast. A young woman is searching for answers to bitter hurts brought about by the local conflict. Her story is threaded with pain and disappointment. Yet she meets up with an older man whom she respects but whose account of being a war-time prisoner near the doomed city of Dresden she has never fully heard. This young woman is an entirely fictional creation and her tale bears no resemblance to any biography of which I am aware.   

So how will these two dramatic characters interact? And what kind of moral and emotional journey will their stories take the storytellers and the listeners on? Playing the role of Siobhan is Lucy McConnell, playing the role of Frau Klein is Frances Livingstone, playing the part of the young padre called Tom Moore is Jonnee Hicks and playing the part of the older Tom there is myself, Philip Orr, who also authored the script. The performance lasts approximately an hour and a half and there is no interval.

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