When Fintan Brady's Heroes With Their Hands In The Air was originally staged in 2007, the Saville Report – what would come to be described as the 'definitive version' of the Bloody Sunday events – had not yet been published.
Saville's findings and vindication of the victims give Brady's play additional depth and resonance, while JP Conaghan’s directorial restraint allows his cast of five to flourish. This is a timely and relevant play that conveys many messages in an understated, matter-of-fact manner.
Heroes has a fractured structure, which takes a bit of getting used to. It is a collection of disparate narratives and testimonies taken from the long-suffering families of the Bloody Sunday victims, woven together by Brady to deliver a remarkable emotional punch.
The early scenes pass by like history lessons. A 'voice of the people' relates events, always interesting, but curiously dry and detached. As the play proceeds, however, the ensemble cast – which includes Stephen Clarke, Amanda Doherty, Liam Green, Micky Kelly and Louise Conaghan – gradually humanise the material, transforming Heroes into something much more engrossing.
Brady's wordy script leaves one with plenty of food for thought. At one point the Saville Inquiry is described as 'a waste of time and money'. Testimonies from sisters, brothers, fathers and mothers of the victims – resolute in their quest for the truth – balance the piece.
How does one come to definitive conclusions when those in the dock – representatives of the British government, the army, the RUC – repeatedly 'don't remember' and 'can't recall' the events in question? With this play, Brady seems to be asking what exactly constitutes the truth? It is, therefore, a compelling commentary on how easily history can be rewritten to protect some at the detriment of others.
It is testament to Conaghan's overall approach that he recognises the need for levity in this production. Had Heroes been played completely straight, it would certainly have been much more difficult to watch. But Brady's script is full of humour, and Conaghan draws it out to add some light to the darkness.
Ultimately Heroes concludes on a bittersweet note. The families still search for justice, they vow never to give up, to 'keep on knocking' on doors. In a final speech, one character proclaims, 'You can only bury the truth for so long'.
It remains to be seen whether or not those individuals responsible for the events of Bloody Sunday will ever be prosecuted for their actions. One thing is for sure, though – the innocent heroes will never be forgotten.
Heroes With Their Hands in the Air runs from February 3 – 4 in the Playhouse Theatre, Derry-Londonderry, and from February 8 – 11 in An Culturlann, Belfast.