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Total rematch for A Night In November

GOING HEAD TO HEAD: Director Matthew McElhinney and actor Matthew Forsythe GOING HEAD TO HEAD: Director Matthew McElhinney and actor Matthew Forsythe
By Ciara Quinn

AUGUST 1994 and the curtain came up on Marie Jones’ A Night in November, making its theatrical debut as part of Féile an Phobail. 25 years on and the play is back, detailing one man’s struggle with identity at the Lyric Theatre.
The play charts the story of welfare clerk Kenneth McAllister, a Protestant who has always followed the rules and has “cleanly discriminated” against Catholics throughout his life. This is the case up until he witnesses the hatred and bigotry directed towards Irish supporters of the now infamous and most politically -charged match between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland during the 1993 World Cup qualifier at Windsor Park.
The toxic atmosphere which rained down from the stands was captured in Marie’s prose; the match coming just days after the Shankill bombing and the Greysteel murders.
The Fall and Come Home actor Matthew Forsythe fought off 300 submissions, 80 self-tapes and “30 people in the room which was then whittled down to 10,” for the “dream role” of playing Kenneth.
“I read it around 2000 and it was and is one of those theatre pieces that I instantly felt a connection with. I saw a lot of me in the part especially growing up in the 1980s and 90s.”
The play on its first initial run was a showcase for actor Dan Gordon who portrayed Kenneth, and later Marty Maguire who toured the production around the States. Matthew explained how when he was trying to get into drama school across the water he contacted Dan for advice and support.
“I was holding a charity event to try and raise a bit of money, Dan couldn’t come but he sent me a postcard with a £50 cheque in it and the postcard was of Dan in character as Kenneth. I still have it,” he said.
Matthew’s further connection to the piece was that he was in the Windsor stands that ‘night in November’ having been taken to see the match with his school, Laurelhill High School in Lisburn.
In August 2007 Patrick Kielty took on the role of Kenneth, directed by acclaimed actor Ian McElhinney during a run at the Opera House. Fast-forward 12 years and its Ian and Marie’s son Matthew now in the director’s chair.
“The play debuted during a very sensitive, political time,” explained Matthew McElhinney, “the reaction was very funny, very moving and very engaging. There was some controversy over the content, it was seen as being not painting the side of the community my mother came from in the best light, essentially it was a critique of her own community, her own people. Mum was writing about what she saw at the time. Such was its reaction the Lyric had to put on extra security.”
Asked about the significance of the play 25 years on Matthew spoke of how the play “paints the two sides of football”.
“I remember there was talk of bringing the play back to the stage during the Euro’s but mum said it wasn’t the right time. 25 years is a big anniversary and I kept thinking ‘how am I going to stage this?’ To frame it within the context of that was then, this is now. There has been astounding progress from the ‘Billy Boys’ to being awarded the Grand Vermeil in 2016 during the Euros, for the Northern Ireland fans along with the Republic. It’s a chance to say look at what we have achieved, and the tagline of the play is ‘is it possible to change?’
“The play has ups, downs, laughs and emotion. It’s been 25 years and we are about to have a whole new generation come to see it.”
A Night in November runs at the Lyric Theatre from June 12-21. For ticket information visit www.lyrictheatre.co.uk
A Father’s Day post show Q&A with Matthew and Ian McElhinney will take place on Sunday June 16 entitled ‘Like Father, Like Son’.

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