Beyond Belief: musical remembers John and Pat Hume
by Laura RODRIGUEZ-DAVIS
7 April 2023
Thunderous applause and a standing ovation marked the end of a successful run of Hume — Beyond Belief: The Life and Mission of John and Pat Hume at the Guildhall in Derry/Londonderry. The musical, produced by The Playhouse Derry in partnership with The John and Pat Hume Foundation, was directed by Kieran Griffiths with music by Brian O’Doherty and book and lyrics by Damian Gorman. The cast included Conor O’Kane as a younger John Hume, Gerry Doherty as an older Hume, and Naoimh Morgan as Pat Hume. The show ran from 31 March to 7 April 2023 in time for the 25th anniversary of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.
Featuring a thrust stage and nature scenery complete with actual dirt, the musical started with the story of a young John and Pat Hume in Derry/Londonderry. The audience watched as their romance unfolded and their partnership in peacebuilding commenced. Soaring harmonies performed by a large cast and a live orchestra filled the theatre and added depth to the narrative. Performers weaved in and out of the audience, creating an intimate immersion.
Sprinkled with humour, the show took viewers through the life of John and Pat Hume as they went from young lovers to parents to civically involved advocates of peace in Northern Ireland. John’s passion for equality and fond regard for the people of Derry/Londonderry was evident. Subplots featuring various friends of the Humes and townspeople added character to the story. However, the musical did not shy away from the harsh realities of the Troubles, with gripping scenes focused on the presence of paramilitaries, Bloody Sunday, and the grief of losing loved ones to violence.
The performance provided an honest look into John and Pat Hume’s most raw and vulnerable struggles as they worked to secure peace. Pat’s frustration with trying to provide stability and safety to her family amid John’s highly visible and consequential political endeavours was balanced by her unwavering faith in her husband and conciliatory nature. John, obviously weighed by civic responsibility, was frequently seen troubled and burdened by what was at stake.
In one particularly moving scene, John argued with Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams regarding the violence of republican nationalists in the IRA. They fought over the death of Patsy Gillespie, who was infamously forced by the IRA to drive into a British Army checkpoint with a bomb. The scene even featured a cameo from Kathleen Gillespie, reconciliation advocate and Patsy’s widow. John’s impassioned plea to Adams for an end to violence was contrasted with the criticism from the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) for speaking with Adams in the first place.
As the pressure mounted from all sides, especially as the peace talks were underway, the audience witnessed the cracks in John’s hope and belief that peace in Northern Ireland was possible. In these moments, Pat’s grounded presence was a balm to John (who at this point was now portrayed by Doherty, an ex-republican combatant involved in a bomb explosion at the Guildhall in 1972) in his most frantic moments. Later, Pat, running the constituency office, had an exchange with Martin McGuinness that demonstrated her own leadership and influence as a peacebuilder.
As the musical wound down, patrons were taken through some of the most significant moments of John Hume’s life, including the passing of the peace accord by referendum and receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, humbly giving credit to others for their contributions to ending the conflict as he accepted the award. When John’s dementia began to take him away from his friends and family, a weary Pat remained faithfully by his side until his passing.
Pat valiantly carried on until her own eventual passing and was reunited with John on the other side of death. The finale concluded with the entire cast singing one last tribute to the legacy of John and Pat Hume, a scene felt deeply by the audience who responded in kind.
With a beautiful set, a moving score, and a talented cast, Hume — Beyond Belief was an elaborate, artistic commemoration worthy of the titular peacebuilders. It served as a fitting and timely reminder of the Humes’ sacrifice in contributing to Northern Ireland’s peace. As Northern Ireland reflects on the past 25 years since the Agreement’s passing, the legacy of John and Pat Hume will not soon be forgotten.