“This is what the arts encourage us to do: rise above, use our imagination, be creative.”

—Dr Éimear O’Connor (director of the Tyrone Guthrie Centre)

In few places is Éimear O’Connor’s sentiment above clearer than in the theatre. Northern Ireland hosts a rich and vibrant theatre scene and is native to numerous accomplished playwrights, such as Seamus Haney, Brian Friel, Lisa McGee, and Owen McCafferty. In Northern Ireland, theatre does more than just entertain — it also serves as a medium for memorialising and retelling local history. In a panel discussion with other artists, Queen’s University Belfast senior lecturer Dr Mark Phelan emphasised that artists have often succeeded where politicians have failed: “I think [politicians] could learn enormously from our artists, who I think have consistently shown a much greater imagination and generosity in dealing with our peoples here, our history, our heritage.”

In a 2020 article, researcher Bill Rolston notes that in the aftermath of conflict, the emerging state may not be diligent in memorialising the memories and experiences of victims during the conflict, further perpetuating their marginalisation. As a result, victims may choose to memorialise and commemorate their narratives by their own means, as many have in Northern Ireland. A 2022 study from Alessio Mazzaro demonstrates how performance art can be a powerful tool to memorialise the past and create a space for collective remembering and narrative formation. Northern Irish theatremakers have done exactly that. 

In a place where the question of how to deal with the past remains a point of political contention, the arts, especially theatre, provide an invaluable service to Northern Ireland. To honour the 25th anniversary of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, there have been a number of theatrical productions focused on commemorating the development and signing of the agreement and reflecting on the past quarter century. Other theatres promote cross-community collaboration and connection. Here are some noteworthy theatre companies and drama performances found in Northern Ireland:

Green & Blue — Kabosh Theatre

Known for their gripping storytelling, Kabosh Theatre toured its hit production, Green & Blue (our article). Written by Laurence McKeown and directed by Paula McFetridge, Green & Blue tells the story of two border patrol officers — one with the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and the other with An Garda Síochána — during the height of the Troubles. The award-winning play is based on oral archives from RUC and An Garda Síochána officers, weaving history and artistry to address the legacy of Northern Ireland’s conflict and humanise those involved. 

Agreement — Lyric Theatre

Playwright Owen McCafferty’s Agreement, put on at the Lyric Theatre, took Belfast by storm (our article). Produced in time for the 25th anniversary of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, the play performed for multiple sold-out audiences, which included the likes of former US Senator George Mitchell himself. The show told the story of the final 72 hours leading up to the signing of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, reimagining the tension among the signatories as they scrambled to come to an agreement to end the conflict in Northern Ireland. 

Theatre of Witness — The Playhouse Derry

Founded by artistic director Teya Sepinuck, Theatre of Witness is a ground-breaking programme that promotes healing and reconciliation through artistic expression. It offers workshops that share narratives and perspectives of the Troubles from both sides of the conflict. Performers in Theatre of Witness include relatives of victims, former paramilitary members, and former police officers. It has also produced documentaries and films about the conflict. Theatre of Witness has expanded its work to other parts of the world (our article). 

The Rainbow Factory — YouthAction Northern Ireland

A youth theatre company, The Rainbow Factory, is part of YouthAction Northern Ireland, a cross-community programme that promotes wellness and activism in young people for a peaceful, inclusive society. Young actors participate in high-quality productions with industry professional mentors. At The Rainbow Factory, youth are given the opportunity to make cross-community connections and are empowered to focus on issues that are important to them. 

Beyond Belief: The Life and Mission of John & Pat Hume — The Playhouse Derry

Among the many events for the 25th anniversary of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, Beyond Belief: The Life and Mission of John & Pat Hume stands out as a musical production commemorating John and Pat Hume’s tremendous contribution to the creation of the agreement (our article). The show was complete with live music, choreography, and an elaborate set. There was even a cameo from Kathleen Gillespie, widow of “human bomb” Patsy Gillespie. Additionally, the actor playing the older John Hume, Gerry Doherty, was formerly a republican prisoner responsible for taking part in a bombing in 1972 at the very location where the musical was held, the Guildhall. In more ways than one, Beyond Belief was a powerful testimony of peacebuilding. 

The Agreement: Before and After — Linen Hall Library

How have plays in Northern Ireland changed since the passing of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement? This was the question set by The Agreement: Before and After. Held at the Grand Opera House and hosted by the Linen Hall Library, the event featured local actors performing staged readings of excerpts of works created by local playwrights 25 years before the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement and 25 years after (our article). The audience was entertained by the array of characters and stories portrayed in the curated plays, all while considering the proposed question and celebrating the profound legacy of theatre in Northern Ireland. 

While film and television shows like Derry Girls and the short film An Irish Goodbye (both of which have won BAFTAs) have shown the world the incredible talent coming out of Northern Ireland, there is an undeniable power in Northern Irish theatre, offering poignant storytelling, sidesplitting comedy, and a space to remember the past while holding imaginative hope for the future. 


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