The effect on a city unprepared for wartime involvement played out last night in a new immersive theater experience at Belfast’s W5.
it will never happen here! written and directed by Dan Gordon tells the story of the Belfast Blitz, often using first-hand accounts from those who lived through it.
The cast of characters is played by actors Jo Donnelly and Marty Maguire who bring the reality of war to the fore.
The scene is over; instead, Jo, Marty – and their different appearances – move between the audience. Coupled with multi-screen projection and 360-degree audio-sound technology, participants are offered a unique visual and acoustic evening.
Although there is some seating, the audience is mostly standing to take in the surrounding drama – keep this in mind if you’re planning a visit.
It’s immersive theater unlike anything I’ve enjoyed before. Images of Europe preparing for war surround you, as Jo and Marty quickly close in on the possibility of war.
The prevailing sentiment is that many in Belfast, a city woefully unprepared for attack, did not believe war involvement was a possibility.
In fact, many believed that the German forces would not have enough fuel to fly through Northern Ireland.
Two characters, Aggie and Maggie (using plastic curlers on a most unexpected prop) discuss day-to-day business in town: whether their husbands will register, hiding a certain important document from the local moneylender.
Interspersed throughout the show are real testimonies from children that show the consequences of war in myriad ways.
From the young boy who didn’t want to leave his new county home after being evacuated, helping the baker and having a hot soda for his breakfast every morning, to the young woman who moved in with her aunt in Donegal and her mum Much Missed, these diaries add sadness and a bit of humor to what was to come.
And it happened. On April 7, 1941, an attack on the city’s docks tested Belfast’s defences. A week later, on Easter Tuesday 15 April, 200 Luftwaffe bombers attacked again. This time around 900 people died and 1,500 were injured.
Excluding these attacks on London, this was the greatest loss of life in a night raid during the Blitz.
Jo and Marty skillfully play politicians and anti-aircraft agents, using torches to shed light on the information they are relaying to the public.
The archival photography – much of it from the Belfast Telegraph – allows Jo and Marty to speak to the public while being in character. It’s a smart and effective way to feel part of such an important historical event for Belfast.
There is a strangeness everywhere – because you anticipate the sound of shelling much earlier than you hear it. A few minutes of darkness as the volume increases, the planes fly lower, they prepare to drop their deadly cargo… And despite the wait, when the bombs drop, well, it’s very hard not to not feel moved.
It will never happen here! raises questions about the human repercussions of war, especially given current world events.
It will never happen here! A Belfast Blitz Experience takes place at AMAZE in W5 select nights April 9-23. Tickets are priced at £10 plus booking fee. Visit www.w5online.co.uk to book.
This show is not suitable for young children and is recommended for audiences of children 8 years and older and adults.
You can watch a trailer giving an idea of what audiences can expect. here