FOR 25 years, Patricia Byrne has been shaking up the theatrical space with theatre that is mainly directed at social issues, not just entertainment for the sake of it. Her work as co-founder and artistic director of Sole Purpose Productions has put the City of Derry and Ireland firmly on the map.

It was out of an absolute determination to go against the odds that Patricia and the novelist and dramatist Dave Duggan created Sole Purpose. This was during the Troubles in the North. Nothing was going to stop them.

At the end of last year at one of the studios in Derry’s Playhouse Theatre, a film was screened showcasing the history, achievements and influence of the theatre company across Ireland and as far as Palestine. In 'The Revolution’s Promise', a collection of Palestinian testimonies, Freedom Theatre and Creative Destruction produced an epic journey through the personal stories and creative legacies of leading artists from Palestine. Filmmakers, poets, circus performers, cartoonists and actors from that country expose the ruthless consequences they face when they exercise their freedom to think, write and act. Local activists, actors and students from Derry took part in a reading of the work, directed by Zoe Lafferty, a collaboration between Sole Purpose and Palestinian theatre.

Theatre for social change is not a breezy walk through the park, but the work of Sole Purpose has changed how many perceive their politics, culture, sex, gender and even the contested theme of new migration and poverty.

Patricia's play 'Blinkered', which explores themes of mental health and suicide, was performed at Origin Theatre’s  first Irish Festival in New York in January 2019 and it won the Special Jury Prize and was nominated for four other awards. 'Samara’s Shop in Derry' is another critical production that Sole Purpose has directed. It is representative of migration politics and the reality on the ground and it highlights that the links between Ireland and the Middle East are closer than we realise. In Samara’s Shop, Youssef works to welcome, support and encourage newly settled Syrian refugees. But what happens when the remnants of Ireland’s turbulent past begin to reveal themselves? When Muireann, a shadow of an Ireland gone by, shares her story of famine, migration, war and discrimination, an undeniable shared heritage is unearthed, opening our eyes to an incredible connection between two worlds.

Sole Purpose, which is co-funded by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, is always focused on real change. The team attracts very talented actors and writers to produce substantive plays that excel in prose, quite a number of tearjerkers and plenty of humorous works.  The company has also done an endless amount of community workshops in order to demystify theatre as a way of understanding society. So theatre, must be accessible, the people recruited to perform. The writers are not dropping from some mysterious noble hideout of so-called A-List actors. They are everyday people who are respected for what they do, bringing change to society, especially for communities that are marginalised and feel the weight of discrimination every hour, every minute.