Edinburgh Fringe 2019
A play based on an extensive oral history project with men who patrolled Ireland’s border during the Troubles
Laurence McKeown’s play, Green and Blue, comes at a time when the Irish border is being debated more heatedly than it has been for decades. An ill-considered exit from the European Union, that is more a project of hubris than of any considered reflection of how it might impact on the UK’s constituent parts, has led to a situation where it is all too conceivable that we might once again see a hard border in Ireland. Green and Blue is based on interviews conducted by Diversity Challenges with RUC and Garda Siochana officers who patrolled the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland during the Troubles; it reminds us just what a hard border means and, more than that, is a shout out to our shared humanity that transcends borders.
The stage is bare: a screen with projected backdrops, two bar chairs. Two men in uniform walk on, one in the blue of the Irish Garda, the other in the green of the RUC. We are at the border between Fermanagh and Monaghan; it is the early 1980s; Bobby Sands has just been elected as an MP.
The men stand straight on to the audience divided by space, the invisible border. Both Eddie O’Holleran (James Doran) and David McCabe (Vincent Higgins) are strangers in a strange land posted from other parts of Ireland to patrol the border. Eddie is an affable Corkman and David, his more buttoned up counterpart is from Belfast. Initially their talk is constrained and impersonal, directed impersonally rather than at each other. They talk of the past when Ireland was one, of their grandparents who lived in a united Ireland and fought on opposite sides, but their stories are filtered through the lens of the versions of history they have been taught.
A stray dog who doesn’t recognise borders. especially ones that run right across a field, provides a moment of light relief and the beginnings of more direct communication between the two men on their telephones. They turn away from the audience and to each other. Gradually their relationship builds, and with it our knowledge of the subtle and not so subtle differences between their two countries.
And yet, the two border patrolmen form a third community, each set apart from their communities by their status as policeman with more in common with each other despite the border between them. “People see the uniform; we are ciphers not real people”, Eddie says, “and if you’re not careful that can form your identity for you.”
It’s a straightforward production with the play and its words carrying the show. James Doran and Vincent Higgins give taut and powerful performances as the two patrolmen, and Conan McIvor’s projections of unremarkable and sometimes indistinct landscapes evoke a place between the lines that is at once no place and anywhere.
For all its seeming simplicity Green and Blue packs a powerful punch – and is a salutary reminder that “We have far more in common than that which divides us”.