In 1975 Gerry Conlon was wrongly convicted of the IRA’s Guildford pub bombings, and spent 15 years in jail before being released. The miscarriage of justice and the story of his family has been told in the successful film In the Name of the Father – but this play covers those 15 years in 15 minutes, and focusses instead on the life Conlon had after leaving prison. It is a life wracked by drug addiction and guilt, as he struggles to cope with the knowledge that the false confession beaten out of him had also landed his father in jail, where he died six years later.
The self-confessed ‘cheeky wee shite’ has matured in jail, and emerges a bundle of righteous fury determined to catch up with the decade-and-a-half he has missed… and to get the Birmingham Six, also wrongly convicted, out of prison too. Richard O’Rawe and Martin Lynch’s script hurls through the weeks after his release in a whirlwind of partying and transatlantic travel, meeting luminaries such as Senator Kennedy. As the excitement of release, campaigning and movie-making fade, the memory of his torture and the guilt continue to haunt him and he loses his way in drug addiction.
It’s a one-man show, and Shaun Blaney gives a storming performance as Gerry: a ball of truculent energy powered by pain and guilt, struggling to maintain control of his life and do the right things. As everyone else in Gerry’s life, his simple characterisations are all distinct and instantly recognisable – film director Jim Sheridan and actor Daniel Day Lewis’s absorption of Gerry’s mannerisms are wonderful. The energy never drops in a truly great performance.
The staging is superb. The dimensions of the central space, set to those of a cell with a bed-sized platform and stool, are versatile enough for the whole show but are a constant reminder of how Gerry is still mentally trapped. The sound design is perfect, from the opening drips and clangs and shuffling footsteps of prison onwards, alongside lighting that is both simple and dramatically effective.
In the Name of the Son is a deeply moving play, combining wit and anger with a towering performance. It is a worthy companion piece to the original film, and a fitting tribute to Gerry Conlon.