Preview: The Boat Factory at the King’s Head Theatre, N1

Neil Harrison Photography 2010

Neil Harrison Photography 2010 - Credit: Archant

A play celebrating the shipbuilding industry in Northern Ireland – which was praised by Liam Neeson and Vanessa Redgrave – comes to Islington this month.

The Boat Factory pays homage to playwright Dan Gordon’s dad, who worked in the shipyards in Belfast from the age of 16.

Mr Gordon, an actor and playwright who is best-known for his portrayal of Red Hand Luke in the political satire Give My Head Peace, said: “It’s based on my dad’s story. It’s an imagined history.

“My dad died before I got the chance to sit him down and ask him to tell me about it. But I heard various anecdotes over the years such as one about his friend Barry McGill.

“He was in a car with his friend and they nearly crashed into a really large woman. His friend Barry rolled down his window and told her: ‘If I had hit you, you would have messed up my motor.’”

The play pays homage to the close male friendships, hard graft and humour among the 35,000 men who worked in Belfast’s Harland and Wolff shipyard – where the Titanic was built by workers including Mr Gordon’s grandfather.

The two-hander focuses on Davy (also his dad’s name) who joins as an apprentice in 1947 and gets taken under the wing of cheeky Geordie who goes on to become his best friend.

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“Most men started working there at the age of 14 and 15. They grew up there. They spent more time with their workmates than they did with their families.”

The play was originally performed in the shipyard back in 2009 by 12 actors and 13 apprentices.

Since then it’s been revised into a two-hander which was performed at the Edinburgh Festival last year.

It recently returned from Broadway in New York and has just toured Ireland.

Mr Gordon said it’s been a huge hit in Ireland, Scotland and Wales as people who worked in other big industries such as steel and coal-mining relate to it.

“I love the fact that it touches people,” he said. He is hoping that Londoners will enjoy it too, saying: “Shipbuilding and docks are a big part of what created London. The city is made up of people who came from industrial towns and cities. I think Londoners have great heart and I think they will love it.”

When talking about seeing Liam Neeson and Vanessa Redgrave in the audience in New York, he said: “I thought they will now know who my father is. And my father would have said, ‘Well done. It does not get any better than this.’ Ironically Liam Neeson’s dad and my grandfather knew each other. Liam was in film at that stage and I was doing a sitcom on the telly. We spoke about it after the show and he was really great about it.

“However, I just want to continue to get it out there. For me, it’s as fresh as when I first did it. I’m delighted it’s happening in the King’s Head which is the perfect size. We can have 500 to 1,000 people in a room, but it’s nicer when people can hear me breathing and I can hear them breathing.”

The Boat Factory is playing at the King’s Head Theatre, Upper street, Islington, until August 17. Tickets £20.50. Call 020 7478 0160.

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