The theatre using social distancing to pay tribute to victims of the Troubles

Derry Playhouse invited the community to send in objects and photographs of people who died during the Troubles to fill the seats left empty by social distancing regulations, ahead of a performance remembering those who lost their lives in the 1970s

Derry Playhouse is in the heart of the city and brings people from a divided community together. Closed by the pandemic, it is reopening with a new production, ‘Anything Can Happen: 1972’, telling untold stories from the worst year of the Troubles, created by poet Damian Gorman.

Due to social distancing, the 150-seat theatre is only able to seat around 30 people. In a project called ‘a sunlit absence’, the Playhouse invited the community to send items that connect them to people who died during the Troubles to be placed on the empty seats. The result is an evocative and touching memorial to those who lost their lives.

Among the objects is a teddy bear that belonged to Martin McGavigan’s sister Annette, who was 14 when she was killed when the British Army fired into the crowd of bystanders during a riot in Bogside. Cast member Susan Stanley contributed a box containing items from her brother Paddy, killed in a bombing in Belturbet on December 28, 1972.

These are lines she speaks in the production:

“Here’s the thing, here’s what I want to tell you… the physical bomb that killed Paddy in the phone box, and Geraldine O’Reilly in the chip shop, left a six foot crater in the ground. That hole was filled in; wrecked cars replaced. But that bomb killed something inside of my mammy and daddy. And there is nothing, nothing on this earth, will ever heal my brothers and sisters, nothing. They were – my family was – decimated. I have no recollection of Paddy’s death never having been a presence; ever.”

Anything Can Happen: 1972 begins tonight (16 September) and can be streamed online: