A play about the post-prison life of Gerry Conlon, who was wrongly convicted of the IRA Guildford pub bombings, will show him offering cocaine to Jack Nicholson and singing with Bruce Springsteen at the Oscars.
Based on a book written by a childhood friend, the one-man play will also reveal how Conlon spent more than £1m on crack cocaine and how he finally, almost entirely alone, beat his drug addiction.
Conlon and three friends – Paul Hill, Paddy Armstrong and Carole Richardson – were convicted of the 1974 IRA Guildford pub bombings. After years of campaigning against a miscarriage of justice, the four were freed at the Old Bailey in 1989.
In the Name of the Son opens at Belfast Lyric theatre on 17 March and will also be staged later this year at the Edinburgh festival. It is based on the book of the same title by former IRA prisoner Richard O’Rawe and follows Conlon’s life after he walked out of London’s Old Bailey a free man in 1989 until he died of cancer in 2014 at 60. O’Rawe, who wrote the play with Belfast playwright Martin Lynch, said the experience of dramatising Conlon’s life after 15 years in jail was “one of the hardest things I have ever had to do”.
He added: “I had known Gerry since we were kids playing cowboys and indians in the streets off the Falls Road. So it was draining and deeply emotional at times, recreating scenes which showed Gerry’s dark times.
“But this is also a story of redemption, of how Gerry got out of the pit of drug addiction and rebuilt his life … and how he used the rest of that life to campaign for others suffering miscarriages of justice as well as his battle against the death penalty.
“When I read the final script I felt as if I could hear Gerry’s voice again speaking to me. There is no sentimentality in the drama but there are plenty of laughs as well as it being a tribute.”
The Oscars scenes are based on events in 1994 when Conlon travelled to Hollywood. In The Name of The Father, a film based on the story of the Guildford Four, starring Daniel Day-Lewis as Conlon, was up for a string of nominations. Bored with the ceremony, Conlon and friends from Ireland barricaded themselves into a toilet for a party, joking with stars who came in to relieve themselves“Gerry offered coke to Jack Nicholson, who politely declined, and later sang Hungry Heart with Bruce Springsteen,” O’Rawe said.
Actor Shaun Blaney recreates this and other scenes by switching between Conlon’s voice and other characters.
Lynch said he also found the experience of concentrating Conlon’s years of freedom into a one-man show emotionally draining. He compared it to writing Chronicles of Long Kesh, his play about republican and loyalist prisoners in the H Blocks between 1971 and 1994.
“That was a challenging process because it touched on times such as the hunger strikes and had characters that I had known in real life. But I have to say that In the Name of the Son was even more challenging because it is one man’s struggle towards redemption,” Lynch said.
“I know some of his family will attend the show when it opens after St.Patrick’s Day, and I hope they will see that Richard and I have done justice to Gerry and his story.”