Christina Reid

Her work provides a rare perspective on working-class, female Protestantism

Playwright Christina Reid has brought to theatre a series of passionate, poignant and thought provoking works, unusual in that they place women and young people firmly centre stage. Her plays provide a rare working class, female and Protestant perspective on her society.

From the Ardoyne area of Belfast, Reid was born in 1942, and educated at Everton Primary and Girls Model School in the city, leaving school at 15. Having worked in various jobs, she began submitting short stories to the BBC in the 1970s. Her play, Did You Hear the One About the Irishman?, won the Ulster Television Drama Award in 1980, while her breakthrough work Tea in a China Cup was a runner-up in the 1982 IT/DTF competition for plays by women.

In her mid-30s, Reid returned to study, taking a degree in English at Queen’s University, Belfast. While there, she came to the attention of the Lyric Theatre, Belfast, and taking a sabbatical from her studies, became writer in residence for the 1983-84 season.

Tea in a China Cup was subsequently produced by the Lyric. Set during the Twelfth of July celebrations, it is a poignant tale of three generations of Protestant women in Belfast. The Irish Times noted that through ‘a succession of small, revelatory incidents, a tapestry of humour, prejudice, affection, courage and pretence is woven over a ground of sympathy’.

Reid’s subsequent work includes Joyriders (1986), inspired by her visits to Youth Training Programmes and to the Divis Community Centre in Belfast in the 1980s. Reid met with a group of women who wrote and performed songs about their lives; many subsequently found a place in Joyriders. Though some deemed the play sentimental, the general critical response was extremely positive, with young people particularly responding to its unusual focus on young, working-class lives.

The Guardian declared the play highly impressive for the ‘way it suggests the extent to which a new generation has grown up without hope, and has adjusted with grace and jauntiness to lives bounded by pessimism’. Reid’s Clowns (1996) traced the fate of the Joyriders teenagers eight years on.

Reid moved to London in 1987 and became writer in residence at the Young Vic. In that year, Did You Hear the One About the Irishman? premiered on the London stage. The Last of a Dyin’ Race was performed on television in 1987, and in 1989 the Lyric Theatre Belfast premiered The Belle of Belfast City, which divided critics. Reid has also written several radio plays, including My Name Shall I Tell You My Name? (1988), the story of the relationship between a Somme veteran and his granddaughter, first produced by BBC Northern Ireland for Radio 4.

Reid’s work has been both popularly and critically acclaimed. Tea in a China Cup won the 1983 Thames Television Playwriting Award, while The Belle of Belfast City took the George Devine Award. The Last of a Dyin’ Race won the Giles Cooper Award. The Irish Times praised its ‘sympathy with the virtues and failings of Belfast working-class Protestant women in situations of domestic and public stress’.

Much of Christina Reid’s work is available in print. A collected volume, Christina Reid, Plays I, was published by Methuen in 1997.

© Ophelia Byrne 2004