When the Lyric Theatre decided last year to put on “Mixed Marriage” as the first of four in the Tales of the City series, little did they think that a drama set in Belfast over 100 years ago would have a modern resonance. The play was written by St John Ervine, a distant relative of playwright Brian Ervine and his late brother David of the PUP. The backdrop was the 1907 lockout strike led by James Larkin. For a time, Catholics and Protestants joined together in a common cause but later on sectarian tensions were stoked up and rioting broke out, which the police (RIC) and military had to deal with.
The play is directed by Jimmy Fay, associate artist with the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, where Mixed Marriage had its first performance in March 1911, before moving to London and then New York. Ervine who was born in Belfast in 1883 went on to become General Manager of the theatre in 1915 but did not last long in the post, becoming disillusioned and resigning in 1916 soon after the Easter Rising.
He then joined the Dublin Fusiliers regiment in the British Army and fought during world war I in Flanders, losing a leg. As well as writing Mixed Marriage (1911), Ervine also authored two other plays, Anthony and Anna (1926) and The First Mrs Fraser (1929). He also wrote a biography of George Bernard Shaw, which was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial prize in 1956.
Following the performance, the cast returned to the stage along with Jimmy Fay and held a very interesting discussion with the audience, of which more later. By chance this morning I received a newsletter “What’s on at Queen’s” from the QUB Alumni office. The first item on the agenda is a seminar being held on Monday 4th February at 6pm by the School of Creative Arts: “In Conversation with Jimmy Fay”. He didn’t mention it to me as we chatted while leaving the theatre last night, when he was returning briefly to Dublin. But I am glad to get the opportunity to mention the event here as the interaction with him at the Lyric was very useful. Admission is free.