Northern Ireland

Battle of the Somme: Sons of Ulster play performed at Thiepval site

Sons of Ulster Image copyright Abbey Theatre
Image caption The play was performed at the Ulster Tower in Thiepval

A special performance of the play Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme has been staged at the site of the 1916 battle.

The play was performed by Dublin's Abbey Theatre and Headlong at the Ulster Tower in Thiepval, France.

Friday will be the Centenary of the Somme, one of the bloodiest battles of World War One.

Among the dead were 3,500 soldiers from across Ireland. Two thousand of them were in the 36th Ulster Division.

Image copyright Abbey Theatre
Image caption The Somme battlefield is in the background

The 1985 play by Frank McGuinness focuses on the experiences of eight Ulstermen who volunteer to serve in the division at the beginning of the war.

The story is told in flashback from the viewpoint of the only survivor of the eight.

From the Somme, the play will be taken on a tour of Northern Ireland, presented by the Lyric Theatre.

Lyric executive producer Jimmy Fay said it was absolutely amazing for the play to be staged at the site of the battle.

Image caption Rehearsals of the play took place earlier on Wednesday

"It's been in planning for a long time but I think the actual permission was only given on Friday," he said.

"So the whole thing had to move quite quickly."

He said it was a powerful piece of work.

"The play's the greatest play written about 1916 in any form. It's got the most powerful resonance," he said.

"It's such a key part especially of the north's history, but also Irish history in general.

Image copyright Abbey Theatre
Image caption Jimmy Fay of the Lyric Theatre described the play as the greatest written about 1916

"We've done a tour of Orange halls in the last few weeks just enacting some scenes from the play with some young Belfast actors.

"It's brilliant that the theatre can do that - reach out to people from different parts of the community and different backgrounds that are finding common ground with it."

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