Over The Wire: A Play by Seamas Keenan

Beano Niblock reviews a recent play:
Over The Wire
Written by Seamas Keenan
Directed by Kieran Griffiths
Beano Niblock is a former loyalist prisoner. He currently writes poetry, plays and commentary pieces and blogs at Long Kesh Inside Out.


Over the Wire

Over The Wire was first performed in 2013 in the Derry Playhouse. Then it was directed by Kenny Glenaan the Scots director responsible for Spooks and more recently Charlie-the RTE series on Charles Haughey. This time round the reins are taken up by Kieran Griffiths and he doesn’t disappoint.

From the off the pace is unrelenting … 90 minutes nonstop with no interval. The atmospherics are a standout — lighting and background sounds with what seems like an ever swirling mist — helps to transport us back to late October/Early November 1974. You can feel the cold ... the hunger and the isolation as the 5 Republican prisoners do what it takes to survive in the wake of the burning of Long Kesh camp.

The set design is very simple but hugely effective. A mini cage complete with gate and topped with barbed wire recreates-on a smaller scale-the old compounds of that era. It too is highly effectual in creating the shadowy effect and showing an almost post apocalyptic vista.

The five actors virtually remain on stage for the duration of the play with one notable exception. At all times we are privy to their most private discussions. There is no hiding place and even their makeshift shelter built from the debris fails to conceal them.

Throughout the years the humour and the camaraderie amongst political prisoners has been well documentary and it is given great scope here. The legendary sing songs, organised to lift flagging morale - The Broad Black Brimmer here alongside unforgettable pop classics like Running Bear. The gallows humour, the corny jokes, the pranks and the random classics - “Name me the one woman in the whole world you would ride if you had the Chance” … sure we all played that one. But I wonder how many came up with Lulu as their first choice. It was 1974 after all.

Behind the wire

5 actors - all Derry men by the sound of it - and it seems ... even then, that there was 5 different shades of Republicanism. Take Dee — the OC - he wasn’t even in the Movement before he was lifted and now he’s dishing out orders at the behest of “that shower of shite in cage 6”... who make all the rules. Then there’s the effervescent Dutch — Jack the Lad type, fancies himself as a bit of a ladies man, takes everything at face value. But is impressionable and vulnerable. And Colin ... who’s girlfriend has just had a baby even though he has been in prison for two years. But he loves her and longs to be with her again. Then there’s Lucas. Bit of a socialist apparently ... trusts no one ... has more than one axe to grind and seems like a far more natural OC than Dee.

As the play progresses Lucas’s mental state deteriorates at an alarming rate. Where the drama succeeds is in relaying the emotions and the real fears, the despair and the loneliness, the vulnerability of each person. Each individual has his personal dreads, his terrors, which at times-and particularly when we were young you do your best to disguise. All of this shown up in the glare of the searchlights and the strength of the writer and director is exemplified in the minutiae of long term life within a cage and under extremely terrifying circumstances.

Stirring the pot
Without wanting to disclose too much of the main plot it is enough to say that that ever present and long standing fear within republicanism inevitably raises its head. An informer in the ranks. Who ... if anyone ... in the cage is operating for the Brits …why are the 3 younger men always in a huddle? ... Are they trying to undermine Dee and Lucas?... Are they plotting something? Even if Lucas’s suspicions are founded would this be the catalyst for his demonic behaviour?

One review described Over The Wire as “short, sharp, shock” treatment. I wouldn’t disagree entirely. There are some great one liners here ... some incisive dialogue ... a liberal smattering of agricultural language ... a little nudity and plenty of violence.

Overall I offer high praise to the production. The set is basically a small reproduction of a Lonk Kesh compound but utterly effective. High plaudits also to the technical staff and the production levels. But what impressed me most was the script. I haven’t a clue whether Seamas is an ex prisoner or not but he nailed the intensity of some conversations and equally as important the banality of the rest of it. Go see.


  1. Great Review Beano - grand to see your ink flowing again

  2. Beano/Anthony...or other interested parties.... You may find this interesting. The Troubles Archive

    The Belfast Telegraph has this to say.

    By Nevin Farrell – 11 February 2015

    A digital archive containing hundreds of images of important artistic works produced during the Troubles has been made available as a unique new online resource.

    The pioneering website, compiled by the Arts Council, includes close to 500 examples of work relating to the Troubles between 1969 and 1999 by more than 100 artists.

    It covers visual art, literature, theatre, music, TV and film.
    Containing artist's biographies, authoritative essays, analysis, film and audio clips and a timeline of key events, the Troubles Archive builds on a successful pilot programme at the Ulster Museum.

  3. Beano still can't post on LKIN!!! I've tried to find a place to leave comment on a piece Charlie penned. I can't find a place to leave a comment.

  4. From Beano

    Anthony..good to be back after a break!!..this play although dark in setting, circumstance and telling also illustrates the humour which I feel was common place within all the special category cages. In many ways it was a device to get around the issues and to help each other. I would feel confident in saying that many of the pranks and practical jokes we played went on from 2 to 21...the brush pole trick..the queue for the swimmers..the jumble sales and the Minister “interviewing” the new boys. As I have said previously LK could have been the original subject for Groundhog Day..we had Dougie Murray and Sid McDowell........rather than Bill and Andi!!