Northern Ireland’s longest established professional theatre-in-education company
Replay Productions is Northern Ireland’s longest established and most highly regarded professional theatre-in-education company. Since its foundation in 1988, it has not only brought structured theatre programmes to many thousands of young people, but proved to be one of the most significant commissioning companies in Northern Ireland, bringing to public attention the work of many respected writers, sometimes at early stages of their careers.
Created in 1988 under the artistic directorship of former Charabanc member Brenda Winter, Replay Productions sought from the first to provide a high quality theatre experience for young people. Its premiere work, the historical drama Under Napoleon’s Nose by Marie Jones (1988), was quickly followed by a succession of others ranging across various specialisms.
These have included theatre for 3 to 6 year olds, 8 to 11 year olds, younger and older teenagers, and for young people with special needs. A myriad of topics and stories have been dealt with in the company’s plays, with the company offering almost 30 premieres in the 1980s and 1990s, several created out of ongoing relationships fostered between playwright and company.
Marie Jones, for example, has written six plays for Replay with subjects ranging from environmental awareness in the sassy It’s A Waste of Time, Tracey (1989), to issues affecting the lives of young people with a physical or learning disability in Don’t Look Down (1992).
Similarly, writer Damian Gorman has seen four works produced, including the striking Ground Control to Davy Mental (1992), which examined issues of family, growing up and alcohol use, and Stones (1994), which focused on the 1858-59 Great Revival in Co Antrim and its present day repercussions.
Replay commissioned two dark compelling works from Gary Mitchell: That Driving Ambition (1995) covered the topics of joyriding and punishment beatings, while Sinking (1997) addressed the problem of bullying in society as a whole.
John McClelland’s historical works Forging Ahead (1997) and Blood Lines (1999) provided absorbing introductions into Viking and Victorian history respectively, while Dome Sweet Dome (2000) used the Millennium to explore time and numbers for young people in special schools.
Brenda Winter herself produced four works for Replay, three of which have imaginatively addressed topics of particular relevance to young people with disabilities, such as the growing need of the disabled adolescent for independence in The Great I Am (1994), and the fear of the unknown in The Little Wee Martian (1999).
John P Rooney meanwhile created the highly vivid Permanent Deadweight (1991), telling of the experiences of orphan girls sent to Australia in the nineteenth century, while his Squinty and the Scotch Giant (1994) intertwined the story of the Belfast Blitz with tales of the legendary Finn McCool.
Recent commissioned writers have included Rebecca Bartlett, who focused on the experience of Jewish immigrants to Belfast (Shalom Belfast! 2000), and Paul Boyd who wrote on issues of behaviour, focus and a sense of belonging (Smelly Won’t Behave! 2001).
Sarah FitzGibbon’s play for the very young Little Lou Tells a Story (2002) drew on the Snow White story, while Grant Corr examined choice in You Choose (2002). Nicola McCartney wrote The Millies (2003) about the mill girls of Belfast, and Mary McNally dramatised playing with fire in Flaming Fables (2004).
As well as these premieres, Replay has also produced extant works including The Lost Child by Mike Kenny (1998), nominated for a Belfast Arts Award, and the highly praised production of Mirad, A Boy From Bosnia by Ad de Bont (1996). The company has created site-specific projects at sites such as the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum at Cultra (Timetrekker To Tea Lane by Brenda Winter, 1989) and Carrickfergus Castle (The Normans at Carrick, 1992).
In general, Replay has become a vital and highly active part of the theatre landscape of Northern Ireland. Its extensive touring policy continues to bring it to a huge number of schools and venues with each production, creating a meaningful theatre experience for young people. Its back catalogue of works, combined recent initatives such as the 2003 Script Lab and Theatre Masterclass series, have encouraged a new generation of practitioners, including writers.
Wide ranging in approach, producing to high standards and often pleasingly idiosyncratic in nature, the company justifiably continues to attract critical and popular acclaim for its work.
© Ophelia Byrne 2004