Gerry Conlon was at the wrong place at the wrong time more than once, which, as In the Name of the Son at the Grand Opera House demonstrated, can make for compelling drama — in life and on stage.
As a teenage tearaway, Gerry Conlon found himself in London when when being Paddy meant you were guilty — and ended up serving a life sentence in jail for bombings he knew nothing about.
In his wake, his Aunt Annie, his cousins and his poor da all landed up in the slammer as well with the coppers and the politicos beaming with pride at having locked up a crack IRA cell - better known to readers of the Andytown News as a family of innocents.
Famously, Gerry's da Guiseppe would die in jail while handcuffed to a bed and, almost ten years later, Kid Conlon would be released from the Old Bailey to a tumultuous welcome.
In another era, Gerry's fight for freedom would have won him the Freedom of Belfast but in 1989 the city remained a bitter backwater. Wrong place, wrong time yet again.
Instead, he rushed headlong into the gaping jaws of fame and fortune, his candle burning furiously bright — and frighteningly brief — before his dizzying descent into a 13-year drugs wasteland.
If going through to Edinburgh in the next few weeks, well worth the effort of going to see IN THE NAME OF THE SON, The Gerry Conlon Story, at #edfringe playing from 3-29th Aug. Was a big hit in its recent outing at the Grand Opera House, Belfast. #Celtic https://t.co/eV8G2aWeh7— CoolBreeze (@Cool__Breeze) August 1, 2022
These elements - frenetic, pathetic, heartbreaking, hilarious - could break a lesser actor than Shaun Blaney who plays our main man (and everyone else) but here they are like bolts of energy, pushing the action to the very cliff-edge - and then over.
Blaney finds his feet best in the second half when calm descends post the sheer partying madness which followed Gerry Conlon's release and his feting on both sides the Atlantic. That relentless, drug-fuelled roller-coaster ride (with freeloaders aplenty) culminated in the release of the Oscar-nominated movie In The Name of the Father - with Oscars night in LA providing a stunning highlight in a series of rollicking scenes.
"I have been in prison for something I did not do." - Gerry Conlon who died on this day in 2014.— Crimes of Britain (@crimesofbrits) June 21, 2017
"Being Irish means they're guilty." pic.twitter.com/KBwE0dYFDD
Finally and fortuitously, Gerry Conlon does find himself at the right place at the right time before this production and his life comes to a close - at home with his courageous mum Sarah. It is a fitting and simple end to a hard station.
Combined with epic lighting, a bewitching set which can switch from hotel suite to cell in an instant, and the sure directing hand of Tony Devlin, this is a play which will last long in the memory.
For sure, Richard O'Rawe's book on which the play is based is itself a classic and he and Martin Lynch have teamed up well to write this script but, above all else, In The Name of the Son is truly special because Shaun Blaney sets the stage on fire — in a way not seen in the Opera House since the IRA blew up the Ulster Unionist headquarters next door.
It's been a while since I saw working class Belfast turn out for the theatre in such numbers - they weren't let down by this Brassneck production. Bravo!