Contentious play has been revised to reflect excellent behaviour of NI supporters

Marie Jones has reworked her play ‘A Night in November’ with references to the Northern Ireland fans’ “exemplary behaviour” award at the 2016 European Championship finals.

Thursday, 25th November 2021, 4:18 pm
Playwright Marie Jones and actor Matthew Forsythe. Photo: Hugh Russell

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It examines the middle class prejudice of a Protestant dole clerk who eventually recognises, and transforms, his own sectarian behaviour.

The playwright has stressed that her work does not focus on “the foot soldiers” of the football terraces, however, it is very much set against a backdrop of “awful sectarianism” at Windsor Park when the Republic were in town for a World Cup qualifying match in November 1993.

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That scenario has been contested by many Northern Ireland fans who attended the game as being outrageously exaggerated.

Speaking to the News Letter, the writer describes how reading newspaper reports a few days after the now infamous encounter inspired her to pen the critically acclaimed stage production.

“I wasn’t at the match that night, I watched it on television. From the commentator you wouldn’t think anything was happening. You couldn’t hear any chants, but when we got the Sunday paper, it’s no longer a paper, a Dublin paper, a lot of those papers were saying how awful it was and how sectarian it was.

“I thought ‘this is terrible,’ so it was then we decided let’s look at this, let’s research it and let’s talk to people. So we then started to do a lot of research on it.”

The play has now travelled the world and been translated into several languages.

“Even though it is set here, about here, the intricacies of the politics here and sectarianism, it actually did travel very well. Even the humour did as well,” she said.

Asked if the play has reinforced a belief in some quarters that only Protestants are sectarian, Ms Jones said: “It really does not focus on the ordinary, as I would say ‘foot soldiers’. It’s the kind of Kenneth McAllisters (the play’s main character), the middle class – ‘I have moved away from that, I’m not sectarian’.

“Deep down he realises that he is the one that has the power to be sectarian. He doesn’t need to go out and throw stones, because he can give them a hard time (through his job at the dole office).

“So it’s really more geared towards those people who think that they’re not, and really they are the people who have the power.”

The play has been updated and is now bookend with acknowledgement of the NI fans, along with the Republic’s fans, being awarded the Medal of the City of Paris for “exemplary sportsmanship” during Euro 2016.

“The whole emphasis of the play is on ‘see how far we have come’.

“It was the fans who stopped the sectarianism – it wasn’t anybody outside, it wasn’t anybody in power, it was a popular movement.

“Now I love [the Northern Ireland games]. To me it is like going to the theatre. There is the drama, the humour, and then there is the excitement. And when the euphoria comes, it is amazing. That’s how it is now.

“When you look back at the play, you want to say a lot of things about what was happening at the time in the peace process, so you needed a conduit, you needed something to hang all this stuff on, and then when that match happened... I think it was our darkest times.

“The Shankill bomb had happened and then Greysteel. Those were very dark times but, behind that, there was progress being made. People were starting to think and to listen to the other side.”

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