No Surrender | Book Launch – No Alibis Bookshop
By Conor O’Neill
No Alibis holds 45 to 50 people at a crush. I’ve been to a few book launches there before, but have yet to see it as crowded. Owner David was somehow finding seats from nowhere and cramming them in somehow somewhere. After last year’s critically acclaimed run at The Strand Theatre in East Belfast, writer, director, actor, painter, educator etc. has put the script of his play into book form; with a few additions. Addressing us as ‘McCready groupies’ documentary filmmaker and close friend of the McCreadys, Moore Sinnerton opens with a few little-known facts about their shared past, most in praise of Sam, and a few McCready would probably rather be kept out of the public realm. Sinnerton, before the opening apparently looked up the word ‘alibi’, he explains: “Nowadays we use it as a noun meaning ‘excuse’ but it comes from originally from the Latin meaning ‘elsewhere’, and in one sense I wish I were elsewhere this evening.” Tales of Sam’s natural willingness to only overtake round blind corners in the lanes of Tuscany, their careers as teachers at Orangefield Boys’ School and other little asides set the stage for Joan McCready to read the foreword of the book.
Joan and Sam McCready have been married 56 years. It’s hard to imagine one without the other. As an actor and director herself, she is, of course, a natural in front of a crowd. Her easy going, relaxed manner is a kind of antidote to her hubby’s boundless, puppy-like energy.
Next, of course, it’s the man of the moment’s time to grab our collective ear. Sharing the same part of Belfast as Harbinson as a child, also evacuated during WWII as the bombs fell on the docks of Belfast and transferred to the safety of rural Northern Ireland, it is, of course, easy to understand McCready’s affinity with the original author of No Surrender. Maybe the reason why the bookshop was full to the brim is that McCready, quite unlike many authors doesn’t just read the book: the actor in him simply won’t allow that. He acts it out, theatrically and movingly bringing the words and room to life. No publicity for your next run like the night of your book launch. Wild and wily stuff. Harbinson would be proud.
After the almost compulsory Q & A session and many a book getting signed, wine sipped and the meet and greet, CultureHUB caught a few minutes with McCready to chat about the book. I ask Sam why did you pick No Alibis as the venue for the book launch? He explains: “My friend, the painter, Neil Shawcross has a very strong connection with No Alibis. He spoke so highly of its reputation and the people who come to No Alibis and it is regarded as one of the best bookshops in the place and he said, ‘If you want people who would be interested in what you’re doing, perhaps No Alibis is the place’. David, the owner, is a very generous, lovely man and I spoke with him and he opened his arms and said, ‘Yes, we’d love that!’”
Next, I address the slight differences from what I’d heard at last year’s production and what was read tonight. McCready says: “Yes, there are some minor things text wise. The book has additions which I think enriches it. I think when you read it there are things I don’t do in the show because it’s lengthwise and rhythm but I think it’s good they’re in there in the print edition.” And it’s all Harbinson’s own words? Sam continues: “Absolutely, but you see Harbinson when he writes it in the 1960s, he’s already left here and he’s writing for a universal audience so the words he uses are not always the words we would use here in the dialect. I returned to the dialect word because I know that’s the word he would have used but didn’t because people outside of here wouldn’t understand it.” Joan is always involved in their Two-For-One Productions, either as actor, editor or director. I ask how much involvement she had with the adaptation? Sam says: “Joan is always involved. I would write the adaptation and read everything I have done back to Joan. She will make comments on it, some would be cut and some will be extended. I’m doing the writing but Joan is always there as support, as the person who I can go through to know if it’s going to be effective or not.” And finally, I ask about the next run. While there can be no comparison to playing on both his and Harbinson’s old stomping ground, I ask if the Lyric production will be bigger and better? McCready quickly clears the matter up: “It’ll be a different show because the relationship with the audience will be different. In The Strand, you’re up on a stage and the people are way out in front of you. In The Lyric they’ll be right up close to me and there’ll be an intimacy there. That will change the show, but the show is basically the same, the chair, the text, but that’s what’s going to happen.”
If you want to see ‘what’s going to happen’? No Surrender runs at Belfast’s Lyric theatre from 11 – 15 April. For tickets visit www.lyrictheatre.co.uk or phone the box office on 02890 381081. No Surrender, Adapted from the autobiography of Robert Harbinson by Sam McCready is out now and available from all good bookshops.