Making History

by Brian Friel

Making History had 4 performances over 9 years ago (between the 28th of March 2012 and the 31st of March 2012) at The Riverhouse Barn

166th Production.

The year is 1591. In England, Elizabeth I is on the throne, Shakespeare is at his peak, and the Reformation is effectively over.

In Ireland, various factions and clans are held precariously together by the chieftain Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone, who to many is the effective King of Ireland. England has been attempting to rule Ireland, with mixed success, for 400 years; Elizabeth wants finally to bring Ireland to heel and convert the Irish to Protestantism by demanding loyalty from the chieftains, by force if necessary, and ‘planting’ a neutered Ireland with English protestants, cultivating the land and its people. The Irish have been courting Catholic support from Spain for years and, as our play starts, their longstanding promise to help O’Neill fight the English is about to be delivered….

This play, based on real events, tells the story of Hugh O’Neill who, as every Irish schoolchild knows, was one of Ireland’s greatest heroes. But what makes a hero? Are they born, or are they forged by the passage of time and the effects of nostalgia, national pride and political expediency?

Making History presents O’Neill as an intelligent but flawed character, whose motives are highly complex and whose allegiances to the Irish people, and to England where he was raised, are constantly shifting. Throughout the play Peter Lombard, the Archbishop of Ireland and a personal friend of O’Neill’s, is attempting to write a contemporary history of O’Neill, his life and his actions. Hugh is determined it should be a true account, but what is the ‘truth’? Is Lombard simplifying the narrative, choosing the events and characters that tell the best story? What is any historical account but one person’s view of events? Can it, should it, ever be completely and precisely ‘true’?

This play works on a number of levels – it’s a great yarn, leading up to and examining the aftermath of the battle of Kinsale (1601), where the Irish and Spanish were decimated by the English - effectively ruling out home rule for hundreds of years; it’s a political story of strong characters both on and off the stage; and it examines the way history is written, why nations create heroes, and looks at our alliances – personal and political, temporary and permanent, real and convenient. Above all perhaps it is just one version of the story of one man’s life - his conflicts, his friends, and crucially his love for Mabel, the daughter of his enemy.

Making History is in two acts, each of two scenes. There is no scene change in Act 1, but in Act 2 we leave the family seat in Dungannon for more far-flung parts. It has six tremendous acting parts – and though some characters are on stage more than others, all are very important roles. I am hoping the Barn will lend itself to represent a Tudor baronial hall, the Sperrin mountains, and an apartment in Rome; that lighting will help create sun dappled glades and candlelit moods; and that RDG can once again pull together the right acting and backstage team to do justice to our loyal audience and high production standards.

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HUGH O'NEILL - Graham Collier

2nd Earl of Tyrone (40-55) The central character, a sometimes reluctant and in his own mind undeserving hero, he is a natural leader. He has ploughed a careful furrow, swearing loyalty to the Queen (even fighting with England’s troops in the past) in return for relative autonomy to maintain his position among the Irish people and to preserve their customs, practices and religion. It has been a colourful life of drinking and womanising, but his greatest test is ahead. His new, young – third – wife, Mabel, is his conscience as many conflicting loyalties tear him apart. Despite being Irish, he speaks throughout as an educated Englishman, with just occasional flashes of his original Tyrone accent.

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HARRY HOVEDEN - Marc Anderson

Private secretary to O’Neill (40-55) A similar age to O’Neill, and a personal friend and his closest advisor, Harry is described as someone who has a ‘comforting and soothing effect’ on those he meets. Politically astute, quiet, and deeply loyal to O’Neill, he risks being taken for granted in O’Neill’s darkest hour. Appears in every scene. Can have an English accent.

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HUGH O'DONNELL - Chris Knights

Earl of Donegal (25-38) Much younger than O’Neill, O’Donnell is another great friend and ally in the north of Ireland. Ulster is effectively in three parts – the English control the east, O’Neill leads Tyrone in the centre, and O’Donnell is the chieftain for Donegal and the west. Impetuous, fiery and naïve, he is a warrior in great contrast to the measured O’Neill – but provides some comedy moments as his natural exuberance means he can tend to engage his mouth before his brain! Appears in three scenes. Irish accent.

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PETER LOMBARD - Keith Kimnell

Titular Bishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland (40-60) A similar age or older than O’Neill, Peter is in effect the Catholic Archbishop in a country where such a position is outlawed. Very astute and politically skilled, he is close to the Pope and European politics, and on a personal mission to write the history of the great Irish hero O’Neill. We need to explore what drives him, as the play asks whether he will ‘be around when all this is over’. Appears in three scenes. Irish accent, which can be mild.

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MABEL BAGENAL - Susie Kimnell

O’Neill’s wife (20-30) O’Neill’s new bride in a ‘mixed marriage’, Mabel is the Protestant daughter of Sir Henry Bagenal, Marshall of the English army in Ireland. They have just eloped: the play starts with their wedding celebration. She is ‘half his age’ but is feisty, has a strong mind and is quite prepared to challenge him about taking on the English. She appears quite capable of balancing her English roots with her new Gaelic lifestyle, and converts to Catholicism. Appears in Act one only.

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MARY BAGENAL (two performances) - Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Mabel’s older sister (22-32) Not much older than Mabel, Mary is more uptight, inflexible and frustrated by Mabel’s departure from home, and her ‘going native’ among the Irish. A smaller part, but important since she represents the English view of the Irish, and is still a strong character who loves her family and stands up to O’Neill in a key scene in which he bullies her about his enemy Henry, the girls’ father. Appears in Act one Scene two only.

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MARY BAGENAL (two performances) - Emma Thompson

Mabel’s older sister (22-32) Not much older than Mabel, Mary is more uptight, inflexible and frustrated by Mabel’s departure from home, and her ‘going native’ among the Irish. A smaller part, but important since she represents the English view of the Irish, and is still a strong character who loves her family and stands up to O’Neill in a key scene in which he bullies her about his enemy Henry, the girls’ father. Appears in Act one Scene two only.

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Director/Sound Design - Mark Humble

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Stage Manager/Set Construction Assistant/Properties - Clare Pinnock

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Lighting - Nigel Greenaway

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Lighting Assistant - Bill Payne

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Set Design and Construction - John Godliman

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Sound Operator - Ian Santry

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Set Construction Assistant - Emma Dudley

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Set Construction Assistant/Publicity/Front of House Manager - Frankie Godliman

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Set Construction Assistant - Gemma Cockrell

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Assistant Stage Manager/Set Construction Assistant - Liz Thomas

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Set Construction Assistant - Nick Lund

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Assistant Stage Manager - Emma Thompson

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Set Construction Assistant - Adam Roberts

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Lighting Assistant - Carolyn Menteith

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Properties/Flyer and Programme Design - Anne Nunn

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Wardrobe - Jill Payne

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Continuity - Nicola Anderson

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Continuity/Publicity - Gillian Smithies

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Rehearsal Continuity - Sue Huntley

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Photography - Alan Bostock (www.photoeyes.biz)

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Front of House Manager - Colin Dolley

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Set Construction Assistant - Linda Russell

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Set Construction Assistant - Ian Thomas

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Set Construction Assistant - Nancy Lund

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Set Construction Assistant - Jenny Waller

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Set Construction Assistant - Simon Waller

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Set Construction Assistant - Julian Waller