Sam McCready | Eastside Wall Mural

Sam McCready | Eastside Wall Mural

By Conor O’Neill

“You can actually see it from the air, you know! A niece of mine called me yesterday, she was coming from Sunderland and depending which way the plane was coming in she looked down on East Belfast and said to the woman sitting next to her, ‘look, that’s my uncle on the wall’, and then she thought to herself, ‘I’m sure this woman thinks I’m mad!’”

Sam McCready is of course talking about the Eastside wall mural which celebrates some of its favourite sons and daughters and was unveiled in March of this year. “I didn’t know anything about it, and then out of the blue a friend contacted me on Facebook with a picture and all the scaffolding around it and said ‘you’re on a wall’. I really couldn’t believe it, I really was gobsmacked at the very idea of it in East Belfast. Usually the only picture would be of King Billy and here we are and there I am with King George Best and Sir Van. I love the image where Best almost appears as sort of a guardian angel and Van is looking at me making sure I don’t do anything wrong.”

I suggest that maybe this is a sign of progress as historically Belfast’s walls have men with woolly faces and… McCready jumps in, “Yes, you know how we all hate them. They diminish us and our culture. One of the great problems I think the East has had over the years is that it has never really recognised the people who have come out of it, and we need that. We need to let certain people know who are from of their community. It empowers them and makes them feel better about themselves. Take C.S Lewis from the Holywood Road; people paid no attention to that, but in recent years that has been changing. C.S Lewis has been acknowledged, our sportsmen are being acknowledged and we need more of that. West Belfast has always had that to a greater extent.  The West Belfast Festival has been going for years, but only in the last few years has the East had that. I come here to be part of that because I’m so connected with the people and I try to make my tiny contribution to the quality of life and ultimately peace in this beautiful part of the world.”

McCready is not here to talk about a wall mural of course. He and wife Joan are back from their adopted home in the United States to perform Sam’s adaptation of Helen Lewis’s autobiography, A Time To Speak, a harrowing yet beautiful and life affirming account of a Holocaust survivor. As for his welcome home, “It’s been terrific, people have been so warm, we’re just so happy to be home. We came home a couple of weeks early to get down to rehearsals and get the technical work done, make sure everything is in order and get acclimatised. We done some performances before we came over just to get it up to running speed, that was in the US and we had a terrific response.”

“We usually find there’s a greater awareness over there of the Holocaust with the Jewish Americans and the powerful lobby. Invariably when we perform there are likely to be survivors in the audience and their response is terrific. At the end of the performance some of them stand and shout ‘Tell Our Story!’ and it nearly becomes a chorus around the whole audience. We’re prepared, we’re in very good shape, Joan gives a beautiful performance so it’s really just a matter of supporting her with the technical support.”

Are there any major changes from previous performances? “No, not really, the play is sort of set now. We’ve always used music. In the original performance we had video of dance; technically that is much more difficult if you’re touring. At The Lyric we’re using the videos again. When Helen asked me to adapt it she said, ‘could you have a dancer?’ I thought to myself how can I have a dancer, to choreograph for a dancer, to tour with a dancer, with the expense and all that sort of thing, and then I hit on the idea of having a video of a dancer very much in the style Helen had done herself. I contacted one of her former students, Phillip Johnston, who teaches at a university in Chicago and is also a personal friend of mine, he knows Helen’s style and he choreographed pieces for me, so that’s the development there.”

Another topic burning McCready’s tongue is his next venture, his upcoming adaptation of No Surrender, a memoir by a little known Belfast born writer called Robert Harrison. “It took me ages to get permission to do it. It’s written by someone who was born in Dee Street, East Belfast who then went on to live on the Donegal Road as a young lad growing up in the depression of the 1930s. His father is a window cleaner who gets killed when he falls doing his work and the young lad is in a single parent family struggling. His mother is doing three jobs and eventually he’s evacuated to Enniskillen.”

“For him it’s the emergence of an extraordinary talent. The book is there, it’s published by Faber and Faber but very few people know about it. I struggled to find a literary executor for me to get the rights to adapt it for the stage and finally I got them, so there’s nothing in the way now of doing it in the summer as part of the Eastside Festival. It’s the kind of message I want to share about a boy who grows up in that Protestant background but has an epiphany which he recognises that there is the other side and that’s the message I want to promulgate in the community. It’s still a very vital and lively piece of writing. I’ve been working on it already and I’m very excited about it. I’m on a mission to get more attention put on this man!”

A Time To Speak plays at Belfast’s Lyric Theatre from 03 – 07 May. To book tickets visit www.lyrictheatre.co.uk or call the box office on 02890 381081

No Surrender is planned to play at the Eastside Festival this August.

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