Seven summers ago a teenage boy went to buy sweets one evening in north Belfast and never came home. Thomas Devlin was mercilessly stabbed in an unprovoked attack and bled to death.
The 15-year-old’s murder was senseless but knife crime is a universal story which has become the scourge of many cities including London where the spiralling level of stabbings fuelled the playwright Shelagh Stephenson to pen The Long Road in 2008.
This critically acclaimed drama receives its Northern Ireland premiere at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast where it runs from 3 to 21 October in the Naughton Studio. A special preview performance of The Long Road will take place on Tuesday 2 October, in aid of The Thomas Devlin Fund set up by his family.
The play has been adapted to a Belfast setting with a stunning local cast and is directed by the Lyric’s own Artistic Director, Richard Croxford.
“This enthralling piece is drama at its most potent,” said Richard. “Audiences will be gripped from the outset as this deceptively simple tale is told by our stunning local cast. The raw emotion, humour and honesty of this story will resonate with people on many different levels to give a remarkable night at the theatre.”
The play tells the story of two brothers, Joe and Dan, who go out for the night but one never comes home. Eighteen-year-old Dan dies from a single stab wound inflicted by a young woman, Emma Price (Bernadette Brown) who is ‘off her head’ on drugs.
The whole family struggles to deal with their loss which reaches a heart-rending climax when their mother Mary (Sheelagh O’Kane) seeks to meet her son’s killer in prison. The cast also includes Jo Donnelly, Brendan Fleming and Chris McCurry.
Stephenson spent many hours talking to victims and perpetrators of violent crime, visiting prisons and collaborating with the Forgiveness Project, a charity working in the fields of reconciliation and restorative justice which is a particularly pertinent issue in post-conflict Northern Ireland.
The result of her research is a powerful, poignant drama which never sentimentalises the tough subject matter.
Gilly Campbell from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, which is the play’s principal funder, said: “The Lyric has provided an outstanding cultural programme over the past 40 years and it continues to generate some of the most groundbreaking and innovative theatre that Northern Ireland has to offer. The Long Road is a hard-hitting yet powerful play that deals with a family’s emotional journey to forgiveness after their son is stabbed. A portrait of grief, the play is unfortunately all too topical in today’s modern society and will undoubtedly resonate with audiences here.”
The Thomas Devlin Fund distributes bursaries for educational and training opportunities for students between 15 and 19 years of age to promote personal development. The Fund, which is managed and administered by the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland, promotes public awareness of the impact of the type of violent attack from which Thomas met his death, and supports activities specifically targeted at young people and focused on the arts and music.
On Monday 1 October a celebration is also taking place at the Lyric of the impact of the Thomas Devlin Bursary Awards to recognise the twelve young people who have been awarded bursaries in the fields of performing and visual arts over the past two years.
This will showcase a number of musical and dramatic performances by the inspirational young people who have received bursaries.
The Long Road runs in the Naughton Studio from Wednesday 3 October to Sunday 21 October (previews Sun 30 Sept and Tues 2 Oct). Tickets for the 2 October preview in aid of The Thomas Devlin Fund are £20.